We do not always see it, but our environment is shaping our health at every moment of every day. Where we live, what we eat and how we interact with the world around us can tip the balance (sometimes literally) between healthy or not. That’s where professionals, policies and environmental health programs come into play … Because environmental health and public health is everyone’s business, you have more or less social power in a community.
While we tend to think about health concerning personal choices, as if we exercise or get vaccinated, many external things can influence our health, even if we get sick or injured. Stressors and environmental benefits help shape the types of choices you make, or in some cases, make decisions for you without you noticing.
What Environmental Health Means?
Many people often think of environmental health regarding clean air and water, but natural ecological forces-like global warming is just one piece of a larger puzzle.
Environmental health addresses physical, chemical and biological factors on which we may not have direct control, but which may affect health in any case. For example, if you live in a neighborhood with unsafe sidewalks or contaminated air, it is difficult to get out and exercise. In the same way, with the materials with which your home was built, what insects live nearby and what foods you have access to can also affect your health and that of your family.
In short, environmental health is the area of public health that deals with all how the world around us can affect our physical and mental well-being.
Environmental Health is the Public Health
Environmental health is public health since many external forces directly affect what is eaten, where children live, and adults grow older. These external forces can be a consequence of human beings and their actions, as well as the norms established in a community.
At present, the environment is being threatened by increasing levels of pollution of air, water, land, noise, thermal, and light to name a few. These not only impact the environment but also human health and the world economy. Pollution is estimated to be the main cause of diseases and kills 8.9 million people every year according to the experts.
Some areas directly affect the health of people, and that is part of environmental health:
The air is not something that can be negotiated, and it is a necessity for all humans. We need clean air to survive, and we do not always worry about keeping it clean, something that directly impacts the health of people. Poor air quality is directly related to diseases such as lung cancer. Air pollution is also associated with low birth weight in newborns.
Water and Sanitation
No less than 780 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water and an alarming 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation services, such as having clean toilets. It is estimated that 2,200 children die every day worldwide due to diarrheal diseases related to inadequate water and sanitation.
Do you realize how important it is each time you open the tap water in your house and drink a glass? Not everyone has such a necessary and primary opportunity. The simple act of filtering and chlorinating water decreases diseases that were once common and very dangerous, such as typhoid fever.
Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste
Toxicology, that is, the area of science dedicated to understanding how chemicals and substances can affect people and their environment, is an essential field in environmental health. Many of the materials needed to advance in industries and technology, such as heavy metals or even some plastics, can also hurt the human body and even lead to severe medical conditions.
The deterioration of the environment, often referred to as environmental degradation, threatens the earth’s natural resources such as clean water supply, fossil fuels for energy, and food supply. This also occurs when resources are over-exploited and leads to a disruption in normal functioning in an area.
Homes and Communities
We spend most of our time at home, work or school, so it is essential that these places are safe with a minimum of risks, and that they are conducive to a healthy lifestyle. When a neighborhood has a lot of violence, for example, families may not go out to exercise. When roads are not maintained properly, it can cause more car accidents.
An emerging field in this area of environmental health is access to food. Not everyone has food supplies nearby, and they go to more expensive places to buy food and have fewer quality options in food, and quality is key to maintaining a healthy diet. A remedy that some communities do is to have public fields so that people can have their garden and eat healthy foods.
Infrastructure and Surveillance
The primary piece of any public health strategy is information. By understanding what the risks are and where environmental health experts can better deploy resources to prevent or combat them. This includes researching and responding to diseases, and a field called epidemiology, as well as assessing endangered populations and maintaining proper health surveillance.
Surveillance activities involve going out and looking for particular health problems (active surveillance) or asking professionals from other fields, such as medicine or agriculture, to notify environmental health agencies when they find them (passive monitoring).
Global Environmental Health
In the coming decades, environmental health professionals are preparing for a warmer and more humid climate that is likely to cause or aggravate threats to our public health throughout the world.
As temperatures increase, for example, disease-carrying mosquitoes may live in areas that are too cold for them to survive, increasing the number of people affected by vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria. As sea levels rise, entire coastal cities and island nations are at risk of flooding, potentially sending millions of displaced people to overcrowded areas where diseases can spread rapidly.
Protecting the health of the planet is fundamental to improve and maintain the health of the entire world population. Caring for our planet and protecting environmental health and public health belongs to every one of us.