Planetary Health: From the Wellspring of Holistic Medicine to Personal and Public Health Imperative

Explore (NY). 2019 Mar-Apr;15(2):98-106. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2018.09.002. Epub 2018 Sep 11.


The term planetary health - denoting the interconnections between the health of person and place at all scales - emerged from the environmental and holistic health movements of the 1970-80s; in 1980, Friends of the Earth expanded the World Health Organization definition of health, stating: "health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and ecological well-being and not merely the absence of disease - personal health involves planetary health". By the 1990s, the concept of planetary health was part of the fabric of integrative medicine; more recently, after the 2015 Lancet Commission on Planetary Health report, the concept has penetrated mainstream academic and medical discourse. Here, we explore this history and describe its relevance to contemporary healthcare; integrative medicine is uniquely positioned to educate and advocate on behalf of patients and communities (current and future generations), helping to safeguard health of person, place and planet. We use the emerging microbiome science as a way to illustrate the interconnectivity and health implications of ecosystems (including social/political/economic systems) at all scales. As highlighted in the Canmore Declaration, mainstream planetary health discourse will be strengthened by inter-professional healthcare perspectives, and a more sophisticated understanding of the ways in which social dominance orientation and medical authoritarianism compromise the World Health Organization's broad vision of global health. Planetary health isn't a "new discipline"; it is merely an extension of a concept that was understood by our ancestors, and remains the vocation of all healthcare providers. Discourse on the topic requires cultural competency, critical consciousness and a greater appreciation of marginalized voices.

Keywords: Dysbiosis; Ecology; Health disparities; Microbiome; Natural environments; Non-communicable diseases.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Ecosystem
  • Global Health / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Holistic Health / history*
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine
  • Microbiota
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical
  • Public Health / trends