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Professor Michael Depledge

CBE for environment and health research pioneer

A professor who was one of the first in the country to investigate the links between the environment and human health has been awarded a CBE for his work.

Professor Michael Depledge, who set up the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School, has been recognised in the Queen’s new Year’s Honours list.

Professor Depledge has been exploring the complex interactions between the environment and health since the 80s, when he began advising the European Union, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Professor Depledge said: “I am delighted to be given this award, especially because I have spent many years advocating the importance of paying attention to the intimate connections between the environments in which we live and our health and wellbeing. This award recognises and highlights the importance of this topic.”

Professor Depledge’s prestigious career includes working as Chief Scientist of the Environment Agency of England and Wales from 2002 to 2006 where he developed their first ever Science Strategy and became a member of the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisors Committee.

He was as a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution – a leading advisory body to Parliament until it was abolished by the Coalition Government.

Professor Depledge has held numerous appointments as Honorary Professor – currently at University College London, Oxford University and Chiba Medical School in Japan, and previously at Harvard School of Public Health, Imperial College and many others. He has served as a Council Member on the Natural Environment Research Council, was a founding Board Member of Natural England and chaired the Science Advisory Board for DG-Research and Innovation on Environment and Climate Change, which made recommendations on how to spend over 2 billion euros.

Over the years, Professor Depledge has seen interest in his research area grow, to a point where it is now high on national and international research agendas. A number of high-profile initiatives are being launched to look at issues such as the future of the sea and its impact on health, antibiotic resistance in the environment and chemicals circulating in the environment, and Professor Depledge will be working in roles to advise governments and organisations in the field.

Professor Depledge paid tribute to his colleagues at the Medical School, and particularly the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, which he established on the University’s Truro Campus. He said: “We have a terrific group of researchers and support staff, and together we have made important strides in understanding environment and health links. They are from a wide variety of backgrounds, from medical doctors to social scientists, psychologists, toxicologists, ecologists, economists as well as other disciplines. The willingness of these colleagues to work together with such enthusiasm has raised our profile and environment and human health issues in the UK and around the World. I’d also like to thank my family and friends for all their support over the years.”

Professor Depledge said modern living had led to people often taking the environment for granted. “In the past we were much more in tune with the seasons. We’ve learnt what to grow and eat and how to avoid environmental threats. My research has involved an interdisciplinary approach to try to understand how the vast increase in the human population, from one billion to over seven billion people in just 200 years, has affected our health and environmental sustainability. Over the last 75 years or so, scientists have warned us of the damage our lifestyles have been doing to the planet through pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, but more recently we have been learning about how this damage poses increasing risks to our health and wellbeing. In the UK 85 percent of us now live in towns and cities, somewhat removed from nature. I’ve tried to investigate how we can go back to using the natural environment to foster improvements in health and wellbeing, and to tackle the two great global epidemics of obesity and mental health problems.”

Date: 30 December 2016