International research agendas are placing greater emphasis on the need for more sustainable development to achieve gains in global health. Research using ecosystem approaches to health, and the wider field of ecohealth, contribute to this goal, by addressing health in the context of inter-linked social and ecological systems. We review recent contributions to conceptual development of ecosystem approaches to health, with insights from their application in international development research. Various similar frameworks have emerged to apply the approach. Most predicate integration across disciplines and sectors, stakeholder participation, and an articulation of sustainability and equity to achieve relevant actions for change. Drawing on several frameworks and on case studies, a model process for application of ecosystem approaches is proposed, consisting of an iterative cycles of participatory study design, knowledge generation, intervention, and systematization of knowledge. The benefits of the research approach include innovations that improve health, evidence-based policies that reduce health risks; empowerment of marginalized groups through knowledge gained, and more effective engagement of decision makers. With improved tools to describe environmental and economic dimensions, and explicit strategies for scaling-up the use and application of research results, the field of ecohealth will help integrate both improved health and sustainability into the development agenda.