What is environmental health?
World Health Organization (WHO) has defined environmental health as “aspects of human health and diseases that are determined by environmental factors.”
In layman’s language environmental health is a branch of public health, which is related to the broader environment that can impact human health. The environment you live in has a direct influence on human health and disease.
Any discussion on environmental health is directly associated with prevention or controlling of diseases and injury that may arise due to human interaction with the environment.
Importance of environmental health
Human health and wellness are mainly dependent on a supportive and safe environment. The environment provides energy and other materials required to sustain life.
Good health and wellbeing will depend on:
- Outdoor air quality
- Safe drinking water
- Nutritious food
- Location of your home and communities around it
- Infrastructure and surveillance
- Absence or minimal toxic substances
- Global environmental health
The environmental you live in greatly impacts your physical and mental health. Studies have linked many health issues to the environment of humans.
How the environment affects your health?
The health of your environment is directly linked to your overall wellness. Humans exposed to unhealthy environmental aspects are prone to health problems. Toxins and hazardous waste in and around your environment greatly increase the risk of health condition like cancer, heart disease and asthma.
Here is a lowdown on health effects of some environmental exposures:
Outdoor air pollution
The air you breathe must be clean and free from harmful gases and participates.Poor air quality is linked to asthma, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and other respiratory conditions. Improving the air quality is important for human health.
Unsafe drinking water
Protecting the sources of water and minimizing contamination is a vital part of environmental health. The ground water and the surface water that is used for drinking affects your health. Unsafe drinking water leads to diarrhoeal (gastrointestinal) illnesses. Similarly contaminated recreational water can cause diarrhoeal (gastrointestinal) illnesses or eye, ear, nose and throat infections.
Availability of nutrition
Balanced diet is needed for good health and overall wellbeing. Your food should provide carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in adequate amount. A diet deficient in essential micronutrients like vitamins & minerals leads to deficiency diseases.
UV (ultraviolet light) exposure is also important for human body. For example, vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia. But too much exposure to the UV rays can cause melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer or eye cataracts.
Home environment is an important aspect in overall well-being. People who live in crowded homes are likely to contact infectious diseases such as lower respiratory infections. Many studies have suggested that communities living in cold and damp houses have higher incidence of mortality.
Infrastructure and surveillance
Communities that have tools and devices to detect and kill mosquitoes & ticks have fewer cases of vectors-borne diseases. Such communities report fewer cases of malaria, dengue fever or Rickettsial disease.
Absence or minimal toxic substances
Presence of hazardous substances in the environment you live may cause health problems like dermatitis, burns or poisoning. People inhaling air containing asbestos fibres for some time are known to report breathing difficulties, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Lead is a toxic substance that affects children as well as adults. Lead poisoning takes place when too much lead gets into the body through the skin, air, food or water. It has been reported that Infants & children are more affected by lead poisoning; they suffer from developmental delays and behavioural problems. In adults lead poisoning leads to increased blood pressure.
The noise level around you is also a determinant of environmental health. Health conditions arising out of too much noise in the environment includes hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, insomnia and psychophysiological problems. People living in homes close to main traffic arteries, railway lines or airport have health issues arising out of exposure to too much noise.Similarly, individuals working in noisy environment are also affected.
Second-hand smoking is a great health issue. People who do not smoke but live with smokers, have similar health conditions like active smokers. Infants living with smoking parents have low birthweight and sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). Children in households where either one parent or both parents are active smokers, have health problems like asthma, lower respiratory infections and middle ear infections. Adults living with a smoking spouse/partner are reported to be suffering from ischaemic heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.
Global environmental health
Climate plays an important role in human health. Too hot or too cold areas are uninhabitable. When climate change takes place, it brings diseases to previously habitable environments. Climate change leads to increase in infectious diseases such as giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis and salmonellosis. Heat stroke is also a result of climate change.
How to promote sustainable environment?
Human health and wellness are closely related to environmental factors including air, water, food and climate. So, it’s in the benefit of humans to live in harmony with environment. Here are some practices you can adopt to promote environmental health.
- Make it a habit to promote reusable water bottles. Using glass or stainless-steel bottles is the best.
- Go local. Eat food cultivated in and around the area. Visit the local farmers’ markets or CSAs or eat at restaurants serving local food. Local produce has higher nutrients as the food is consumed closer to harvest. Pollution is reduced when you eat local foods as it doesn’t need to be transported to your city.
- Save water & electricity. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Switch off the TV if you’re not watching anything on it. These simple habits will not only save water & electricity, but also lower your bills.
- Whenever possible resort to walking, riding your bike, or taking a public transport. It makes your travel environment friendly and reduces pollution.
- Make reusable shopping bags your style statement. Always keep a spare reusable bag in your car so that you never need plastic bags to hold your groceries or veggies. In case you have extra plastic bags at home take them back to the grocery store. Many stores accept them for recycling.
- All types of materials can be recycled at communities and at the local campus. You can recycle unused small electronics, print cartridges, batteries, clothing and shoes.
Mental health is an important component of environmental health. The people surrounding you and the things around you can affect your wellness.
Keep the company of positive people who support your goals. Positive people release positive vibe and foster positive thoughts and actions. Your personal, professional and academic goals have more chances of success when you are surrounded by positive people. Be respectful and express gratitude to people around you. When you see someone disrespecting an individual, step in and correct the doer. It adds to the positive environment in your campus for everyone.
Personal safety is an important part of environmental health. Be mindful and wear a helmet when you bike or skateboard. The smoke detectors in your living space should be adequate. Also check the detector batteries within a specific time to ensure that the device is working and will set-off an alarm when needed. Ensure that all household toxins are safely labelled. Also make it a point to dispose the toxins safely. Medications, paint and other household items must be disposed in a proper way.