MEDSCI 101G Environmental Threats to Human Health

MEDSCI 101G | Open | Semester Two 2021 | City Campus | 15 points


Our environment sustains our lives but at times threatens our health. These threats may occur naturally, or arise from damage we have inflicted on our environment. This course starts with a consideration of how previous civilisations have flourished or withered depending on climatic factors. It then considers the potential health impacts of:

  • Climate change
  • Pollution
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Workplace hazards
  • Infectious diseases
  • Factors affecting cancer risk

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, you will  be more aware of the ways in which human health – whether considered in terms of societies or individuals  – is affected by the environment. This should enable you to make decisions that benefit your communities and yourselves. Uninformed controversy often clouds issues of human health, and the material provided in MEDSCI 101G should enable more informed participation in the discussion. You should:

  • Have a deepened awareness of your place within a complex ecosphere.
  • Gain an appreciation of the continuous and often subtle effects of the environment on your well-being.
  • Recognise how the body responds to harmful agents.
  • Be enabled to live proactively so to minimise direct and long-term health risks.
  • Engage in informed and rational dialogue about the (often controversial) impacts of environmental agents on human well-being.

Topics Covered

The big picture

  • The vulnerability of civilisations
  • Healthy ecosystems for healthy people
  • Potential effects of climate change
  • Threats from the sea: algal poisons
  • Threats from drinking water: history’s worst mass poisoning

Lifestyle and work

  • Diseases of poverty and wealth
  • Alcohol and liver damage
  • Threats from dirty air: heart attacks
  • Pollutants that act like hormones
  • Chlorine and fibres in the lungs

Infectious agents

  • Bacterial infections in NZ (Staph. aureus)
  • Antibiotics and the problem of resistance
  • Influenza and emerging diseases
  • Diseases of cleanliness?


  • Childhood obesity
  • Micronutrient deficiencies in a land of plenty


  • Dietary and occupational factors in cancer
  • Ultraviolet light and cancers of the skin
  • Colon cancer
  • Infections and cancers
  • Fungal poisons in food
  • Smoking

Student Feedback

In response to the question 'What was most helpful for your learning?' students wrote:

'Learning about the body and how environments affect it.'

'Museum visit was great! It was interesting to see examples of what was taught in class.'

'Lectures were very informative  – learnt so much from them. Workbooks given out on day one very helpful. Lectures were great.'

'The assignments helped my understanding and were especially interesting because of their relevance today. The museum trip also helped a lot to put everything in perspective.'

'The lecture handout notes were VERY helpful, they made it easier to focus on the content/flow of the lecture without having to worry about unknown scientific terms/models. Clear visual diagrams simplifying the complex ideas were also very helpful in gaining a better understanding.'

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