A review of the role of the environment as a determinant of infectious and parasitic diseases is presented. Historical considerations and the several environmental classifications of diseases are introduced. In a broader perspective the subject is analyzed in view of the emergence of the environmental health area, with its new paradigms. A review of epidemiological studies about environmental sanitation conditions and measures is presented, analyzing the conclusions derived from 256 studies. Finally, an epidemiological study carried out in Betim, Minas Gerais is briefly described, in order to illustrate the potentiality of this kind of study. Setting priorities of interventions regarding diarrhea control was the aim of this investigation. Conclusion about the role of this approach to optimize preventive measures for the control of infectious and parasitic diseases, of sound importance to the reality of the developing world, is stated.