10 facts on preventing disease through healthy environments
An estimated 12.6 million people died as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment in 2012 – nearly 1 in 4 global deaths. Environmental risk factors such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries.
In March 2016, WHO published the second edition of the report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks”, which cites proven strategies for preventing disease and deaths through healthy environments.
Fact 1: Nearly 1 in 4 deaths across the globe are due to environmental factors. Every year an estimated 12.6 million people die as a result of living or working in an unhealthy environment. Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries.
Fact 2: Noncommunicable diseases cause 65% of environmental-related deaths. Some 8.2 million out of the 12.6 million deaths caused by the environment each year are due to noncommunicable diseases, primarily linked to air pollution. Stroke, heart disease, unintentional injuries, cancers and chronic respiratory infections are the top 5 causes of environmental-related deaths.
Fact 3: Deaths from infectious diseases have declined. In the past decade deaths due to infectious diseases, such as diarrhoea and malaria, often related to poor water, sanitation and waste management, have declined. Increases in access to safe water and sanitation and decreases in households using solid fuels for cooking have been key contributors to this decline, alongside better access to immunization, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and essential medicines.
Fact 4: Children under 5 years of age are most affected by the environment. Yearly, 1.7 million deaths in children under 5 years of age are due to the environment. The most prominent causes of death are lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, and diarrhoeal diseases.
Fact 5: Older adults are the second age group most impacted by the environment. Yearly, 4.9 million deaths in adults between 50 and 75 years of age are due to the environment. Unlike children under 5, older adults are most affected by noncommunicable diseases.
Fact 6: Low- and middle-income countries bear the greatest share of environmental disease. Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest environment-related disease burden in 2012, with a total of 7.3 million deaths, most attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
Fact 7: Environmental impacts are uneven across different social groups. Exposure to environmental risk factors is unequally distributed across populations. This unequal distribution is often related to social characteristics such as income, social status, employment and education, but also non-economic aspects such as gender, age and ethnicity.
Fact 8: Environmental disease burden is preventable. Health and other sectors need to work together to reduce the environmental disease burden. For example, reducing traffic congestion and improving public transport networks are important determinants of air pollution, and usually require cooperation with the transport sector and city planners.
Fact 9: Local governance must address environmental health planning. Municipalities are natural leaders of the local environment and health planning. They are often involved in developing the local economy, including transport, tourism, and industry, and can play an important role in healthy planning if they are aware of the potential risks and benefits at stake, and are provided with the tools and support they need.
Fact 10: Healthy environments greatly contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. All of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are related to the environment and to health. Environmental health interventions can make a valuable and sustainable contribution towards reducing the global disease burden and improving the well-being of people everywhere.