Environmental & Occupational Health
Supporting the social fabric of neighborhoods
Out of heavily industrialized and densely populated New Jersey, Dr. Jill Litt’s interest and enthusiasm for environmental health grew. Her understanding of the interconnections between densely populated areas, economic development and environmental protection and how toxic materials affect health status came out of everyday living in New Jersey.
“Public health, for me, is about the environment around us and the systems in place to protect populations from adverse hazards, exposures and harm,” states Dr. Litt. “Such systems ensure clean water, clean air, waste management, safe working conditions as well as neighborhood environments that are walkable, safe, provide basic services and amenities for residents, and that support the social fabric of neighborhoods.”
Dr. Litt’s first professional experiences in public health were at the New Jersey Health Department, the Risk Sciences Institute and the National Governors’ Association in Washington. “There experiences allowed me the opportunity to understand the breadth of public health and all of the possibilities within this field of study,” says Dr. Litt.
One of the public health possibilities Dr. Litt is exploring is the impact of urban, community gardens on neighborhood health. The Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities (GGHC) project is a three-year study looking at the social and health benefits of more than 60 community gardens in Denver. GGHC will help inform communities on ways they can be more active and have access to safe and healthy food. The results of the study will be used to inform public policy about neighborhood environments in Denver and possibly, across the United States.
Dr. Litt continues her research in understanding how neighborhoods can be designed in a way that allow people to be active and access safe and healthy food in their communities while at the same time promote social connections. Farmer’s markets and community gardens, for example, represent different types of health promotion strategies that increase availability of and accessibility to healthy foods while at the same time bring people together in informal community settings. This fosters social processes that may lead to and sustain healthier lifestyles and strengthen neighborhoods.
“In essence, my research studies the ingredients for creating healthy neighborhood environments and includes facets of the physical and social environment,” explains Dr. Litt.
The public health needs in the Rocky Mountain West are changing rapidly and require a skilled workforce to address these challenges, says Dr. Litt. She wants to educate the next generation of public health professionals to protect our air quality and water quality and quantity; monitor population growth and food security; and develop creative ways to slow down rates of obesity while at the same time curbing releases of greenhouse gases to the environment – that is, addressing fundamental aspects of environment such as transportation, food production and energy efficiency in a way that yield health and environmental benefits.
“I enjoy the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences about environmental health and to create a learning environment that fosters an exchange of information between students and faculty and supports critical thinking about complicated public health issues,” she says.
“Apply! A career in public health is the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Dr. Litt. “The work is rewarding, ever changing and always relevant.”