Speaker Spotlight: Katie Fiorella

By: Yawen Xiang, Speaker Ambassador at the 2018 Planetary Health Annual Meeting

Dr Katie Fiorella is a current scholar and will be an Assistant Professor at Cornell University starting in August 2018. She focuses her work on understanding the interactions among environmental change and livelihood, food, and nutrition security. After obtaining her bachelor degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University, Katie furthered her studies at University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, she completed a Masters of Public Health and a PhD with a focus on Environmental Science, Policy & Management. Due to her training in interdisciplinary methods, she could draw on her knowledge in various fields, such as ecology, public health, economics and sociology, to understand health-environment dynamics. Besides research and teaching, Katie is a current advisory board member of Organic Health Response — Ekialo Kiona Center in Kenya and had been part of UN World Food Program and the Food Project.

Katie’s research projects center around environmental change, livelihoods and human health. Her research in these areas includes global analyses and case studies. In Kenya around the Lake Victoria fishery, she leads the Mfangano Research on Environmental and Community Health (RECH) study. The study aims to understand the effects of changing fish availability on access to fish resources, fish consumption, and the growth and cognitive development of young children. This research also looks at the effects of poor human health on the environment and how improved healthcare can serve both people and their environment. Katie also collaborates with researchers from Organic Health Response and UCSF to study the innovative kanyakala program which uses social support groups in providing community support to entire social networks as a solution to both health and environmental challenges affecting communities.

In her latest work, Katie partnered with WorldFish Cambodia to explore the benefits of Community Fish Refuge ponds. A famous Chinese proverb goes that if you give a man a fish, he would not starve for a day; but if you teach him how to fish, he would not starve for life. In many parts of the world, fish serves as an essential source of protein, fatty acids and micronutrients. This is certainly the case in Cambodia where many households catch fish for food and trade. However, due to climate change, high temperatures and changing flood patterns may negatively affect the fish availability. This means that there may be reduced fish catch and fish consumption, which could lead to undernutrition in people who rely heavily on fish. Katie and colleagues are carrying out a longitudinal cohort study, and analyzing a panel dataset collected by WorldFish of 400 households dependent on rice field fisheries over three years (19 distinct time points). They are examining the effect of flood patterns and temperature on households’ fish catch and whether the families respond by modifying their fishing effort (i.e., hours, time of day, or number of family members involved) or fish consumption. Preliminary results suggest that there is indeed a significant reduction in fish catch. While the fishermen were able to increase fish catch by modifying their fishing behavior, the increase cannot fully replace the loss in fish catch. The impact of this is still being analyzed, but it may impact the health and wellbeing of fish-dependent communities.

Recommended reading

  1. Fiorella, KJ, Milner, EM, Salmen, CS, Hickey, MD, Omollo, DO, Mattah, B, Adhiambo, A, Bukusi, EB, Fernald, LCH, Brashares, JS. 2016. Human Health Alters the Sustainability of Fishing Practices in East Africa. PNAS. 114(16): 4171–4176.
  2. Fiorella, KJ, Camlin, CS, Salmen, CR, Omondi, R, Hickey, MD, Omollo, DO, Milner, EM, Bukusi, EA, Fernald, LCH, Brashares, JS. 2015. Transactional Fish-for-Sex Relationships Amid Declining Fish Access in Kenya. World Development. 74: 323–332.
  3. Fiorella, KJ, Hickey, MD, Salmen, CR, Nagata, JM, Mattah, B, Magerenge, R, Cohen, CR, Bukusi, EA, Brashares, JS, Fernald, LCH. 2014. Fishing for Food? Analyzing links between fishing livelihoods and food security around Lake Victoria, Kenya. Food Security. 6(6): 851–860.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.

Generating better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education