Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2014

Document Type


Type of Thesis

General Honors

First Advisor

Carol Wessman


Humanity today faces environmental degradation and an epidemic of chronic human disease. A comprehensive, cross-disciplinary literature review was conducted to explore mechanistic links between these seemingly disparate challenges and test the hypothesis that solutions exist to simultaneously ameliorate environmental degradation and the global epidemic of chronic human diseases and disorders. Such links may render the concept of sustainability more tangible to the public, while exposing the preventable nature of common health conditions. Specifically, this thesis explores agriculture and food as links between human and environmental health. Evidence is summarized that the same agricultural practices that degrade the environment not only threaten future food security, but also produce nutritionally imbalanced foods that increase human disease risk. Mechanisms are identified through which unbalanced diets disrupt critical physiological processes and trigger today’s chronic diseases and disorders. Knowledge of these links, and their ecological and evolutionary basis, can serve not only to prevent current problems, but also to achieve unanticipated gains in human wellness. The concept of sustainability is expanded to include – as inextricably connected – health of individual humans as well as their food plants and animals, the ability of the physical environment to renew itself, and the ability of human society to equitably serve all of its members. Sustainability becomes the method to ameliorate seemingly disparate challenges facing humanity, rather than being the end goal of such progress.