Sanitation and Human Health

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Sanitation and Human Health


To develop an understanding of the impact of improved sanitation on human health. 


Because the health of populations depends more on public health measures than on treatments, an effort should be made to interest students in prevention, vaccination, and other public health measures. Students usually know more about the marvels of modern treatments than they do about preventions, such as sewer systems and improved sanitation technologies.

In this lesson, students learn something about the ways that sanitation technology has helped people. They do this by examining the history of sanitation in the context of disease outbreaks and comparing the quality of life in earlier times to that of today. Students should recognize that advances in health and human life expectancy have resulted in large part because of technologies that we now take for granted, such as modern waste-disposal, sanitary food handling, and refrigeration.


Have students use their Sanitation and Human Health student esheet to go to and read Safe Food Handling from the Fight BAC! website. This site will allow them to review food safety facts.

Discuss these questions:

  • 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?


Next, students should use their student esheet again to go to A Garbage Timeline, which offers an abbreviated history of the advancements in sanitation in the United States over the past 300 years. This site also provides information about the development of food packaging and disposable products for the same time period. 

Have students work in groups to choose significant technological advances from this timeline.

Ask students these questions (they can write their answers to these questions on the Sanitation and Human Health 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? 

Have each student write an essay supporting the statement that improved sanitation has impacted human health. They should refer to at least three specific examples in their essays and use these Internet resources for ideas:


Assess student understanding according to how well they supported their conclusions in their essays and demonstrated an understanding of the ideas in the central benchmark of this lesson.

For example, students should cite specific ways that sanitation technologies and disease prevention technologies have dramatically changed how people live and work. They should explain how sanitation measures, such as the use of sewers, landfills, quarantines, and safe food handling, are important in controlling the spread of organisms that cause disease.


Have students do research on Disease Outbreak News so they can develop an understanding of the differences in living standards in industrialized and developing nations, and how living conditions can affect the health of human populations.

Iowa State University Food Safety Project contains a four-part food safety module that can be used to learn more about foodborne illnesses and pathogens.

The Bad Bug Book, prepared by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), provides more detailed information on foodborne pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and parasites) and natural toxins. Each chapter provides basic facts regarding these organisms and toxins, including their characteristics, habitat or source, associated foods, infective dose, characteristic disease symptoms, complications, recent and/or major outbreaks, and any susceptible populations. 

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks