The Harmony Institute has donated $1 million to the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine to study if living in communities that encourage interaction between residents, animals and nature can improve public health.
One of the research arms will address health impacts in residents living in a “dark sky” community, since previous studies have demonstrated that women who live in areas with high levels of external light at night, such as commonly used street lights, have a higher risk of breast cancer. This could be due to sleep deprivation caused by these lights and by the effect they have in women’s melatonin levels, since melatonin production peaks at night and is lower during the day when our eyes register light exposure.
The donation will fund three years of research, which will be developed in collaboration with the University of Miami.
Researchers will look at how routines, daily interactions among residents, nature and animals can impact health and the development of a number of diseases.
Furthermore, the study will be extended to whole families and the community across generations.
Dr. Clyde McCoy, UCF professor and chair emeritus of Miami’s Department of Public Health Sciences, will work together with top researchers from Harvard, Yale, Tufts, Purdue and Louisiana State University, to evaluate which research arms can cause a greater impact on public health.
“For the first time in history, we have the opportunity to look at every aspect of what’s in a community and how it contributes to health and wellness,” Dr. McCoy said in a press release. “Framingham is the most valuable longitudinal study we have. But now we have the opportunity to look at factors far beyond the individual and look at how the environment impacts the health of a community, a family and the individual. This is a unique opportunity we have never had before.”
In addition to breast cancer research, other topics will include the effect of low-impact exercise (like walking) on cardiovascular health, diabetes and cancer, and the characterization of the microbiology of a healthy community, since commonly used antibacterial soaps and cleansers can have a deleterious effect on beneficial bacteria in the environment.
“Ultimately we hope that parts of this study will encourage a change in public policy to require future communities to include an ability for residents to have routine access to animals and the natural environment,” said Martha Lentz, founder and president of the Harmony Institute. “People, particularly children, should not be deprived of the opportunity to live in healthy communities.”
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