Sanitation and Human Health

Sanitation and Human Health


The world is full of microbes, and so is your body. A great many of these microbes are harmless to people. Some are even helpful. (For example, the bacteria in your intestines help you digest food.) But other microbes have the potential to make you sick. We call these disease-causing microbes germs. They can be spread through food, water, the air, or even by physical contact.

In this activity, we will focus on how the spread of disease can be controlled through sanitation—in other words, keeping our food, water, and environment clean. Many diseases, including cholera and typhoid fever, which have killed countless people throughout history, are spread through infected drinking water. Other germs and parasites spread through food that’s unclean, spoiled, or improperly cooked. Over the past century, humans have learned a lot about preparing and storing food safely and treating public water supplies. The health payoff has been extraordinary.


Begin your study of sanitation and human health by reading Safe Food Handling to see how much you know about keeping food safe. As you read, think about answers to these questions, which you will discuss in class (you can use the Sanitation and Human Health student sheet to record your answers):

  • What are things we take for granted that help protect us from bacteria?
  • How "simple" would these four steps be without things like clean running water, refrigerators, modern stoves, ovens, and food that is inspected by the government?

Now visit A Garbage Timeline, which offers a brief history of the advancements in sanitation in the United States over the past 300 years. As you will see from this timeline, new technologies and developments, alongside a better understanding of the science behind many diseases, have made our lives much healthier today.

Work with your group to choose a significant technological advance from this timeline. With your group, answer these questions on the student sheet:

  • What problem do you think this technology was designed to solve?
  • What were the benefits of this engineering solution?
  • Are we still experiencing its benefits?
  • Were there any drawbacks? If so, what were they?
  • Could this engineering solution have contributed to our current garbage problem? How?

Be prepared to discuss your answers with the rest of the class.

Knowledge Check

Write an essay supporting the statement that improved sanitation has been a benefit to human health. Refer to at least three specific examples in your essays. In addition to the Garbage Timeline, you can use these Internet resources for ideas:

If you find this interesting, you might want to check out Disease Outbreak News, from the World Health Organization.  It provides current information on disease outbreaks throughout the world. Do you think that differences in living standards in industrialized and developing nations can affect human health? What evidence did you find?

This esheet is a part of the Sanitation and Human Health lesson.

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