While we don’t always see it, our environment is constantly shaping our health. How we interact with the world around us, including where we live and what we eat, has a major influence on our health and our bodies. Professionals in the environmental health field study how people interact with the world around them and determine the various ways in which these interactions impact our physical fitness, vulnerability to disease and overall wellness.
What is environmental health?
Environmental health is a field of public health that monitors environmental factors that we don’t have direct control over but impact our health anyway. For example, when roads aren’t properly maintained, it often results in more car crashes, and thus, more physical injuries or even death within a community. It’s the job of public health professionals to use strategic efforts to improve these environmental health factors and enhance the overall wellness of individuals, families and communities at large.
What’s the importance of environmental health?
Maintaining a healthy environment is essential for helping people to live longer and improve their quality of life. A healthy environment helps individuals and communities reduce their exposure to disease and other pollutants that have a toxic effect on the body.
How exactly does the environment impact our health?
Public health professionals have learned that the environment affects our health in a variety of ways, including:
- Air quality: It’s no secret that humans need air to survive. However, we don’t always do our part to keep it clean. Poor air quality has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including SIDS, lung cancer and COPD.
- Water and sanitation: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 780 million people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Even worse, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation services, such as clean restrooms. This lack of clean water and proper sanitation has been linked to staggering health issues for communities, including typhoid and other diarrheal diseases that can even lead to death for young children.
- Waste and toxic substances: In today’s world, many of the materials needed to improve industries and technologies include heavy metals and plastics. When these materials are released into the environment, they can hurt the human body and even lead to serious medical conditions.
- Homes and communities: Your home and community environments have a huge impact on your overall health and well-being. Think about it: We spend a majority of our time at home, work or school, so it’s important that these places are safe. For example, if you live in a neighborhood with polluted air or unsafe sidewalks, it can be difficult to get outside and exercise.
How can we protect and improve our environmental health?
Unlike diet and exercise, many environmental health factors are not something that we can manage or fix by ourselves. Rather, combatting these risks requires action on the local, federal and international level through environmental laws, policies and protection programs. However, there are many things you can do to protect the environmental health and safety of your family and community. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Reduce your carbon footprint and improve air quality by riding your bike, taking the bus or carpooling with a friend to school.
- With a parent or guardian, you can check your own home for radon or lead paint to prevent exposure to toxic substances.
- Rather than using plastic bags at the grocery store and throwing them away later, you can use reusable shopping bags to cut down on plastic waste. At the very least, recycle those plastic bags!
- You’ve probably heard of this one: Reduce, re-use, and recycle! Reducing the amount of “stuff” you use and consume has the greatest benefit for our environment.
- Talk with your local government about investing in environmental health activities to ensure every neighborhood has access to safe environments to live, work and play.