Before the pandemic, WWF started asking how forests benefit human health. During the fall of 2019, we hosted a Fuller Symposium on human health and conservation that heavily featured forests’ contributions to our well-being. We heard a lot of statements about how forests and human health might influence each other but not much that provided a more holistic view of the type of forest and health research that exists or how to start classifying it.
With this in mind, the WWF Forest team redoubled our efforts to understand the science behind forests and human health. Our investigation explored five categories of potential interactions between forests and human health: noncommunicable diseases like cancer and diabetes, environmental exposure, food and nutrition, physical hazards, and infectious diseases.
We uncovered ample evidence that forests provide, prevent, and heal. While there are some hazards forests pose to human health, we found that the conservation, protection, and restoration of the world’s forests are undeniably critical to safeguarding and promoting human health while also making indispensable contributions to managing climate change and biodiversity loss.
The resulting report, The Vitality of Forests: Illustrating the Evidence Connecting Forests and Human Health, is intended to better justify why the public, policymakers, and private sector should be interested in forests’ role beyond their recreational, carbon sequestration, or biodiversity conservation potential. The evidence demonstrates that public health and forests are entwined—at the local, regional, and global scale—and that across each of nature’s contributions to human health, forest conservation, protection, and management can improve human lives.