The environment is increasingly recognised as a significant cause of disease, with research showing links between NCDs and environmental factors such as air pollution, climate change, agriculture and food and urbanisation.
There is mounting evidence that demonstrates the link between health and the environment. Our behaviours have an impact on the environment, which in turn impacts our health and wellbeing. We cannot thrive in an unhealthy environment, while the environment cannot thrive when our behaviours are unhealthy. Concerningly, the impact of environmental factors on NCDs is escalating.
- Air pollution is second only to tobacco smoking in causing global NCDs. Globally, almost one-third of cardiovascular disease burden is attributable to household and ambient air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke and exposure to toxins such as lead.
- Climate plays an important role in human health and wellbeing. Climate change itself can directly and indirectly increase the incidence of NCDs. For example, climate change may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease directly via air pollution and extreme temperatures, and indirectly via changes to food availability.
- Dietary choices also link environmental and human health. Strong evidence indicates that food production is among the largest drivers of global environmental change by contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater use and land-system change. Rising incomes and urbanisation are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined sugars, refined fats, oils and meats. These dietary shifts are causing increases in diet-related diseases and environmental degradation.
There are direct and indirect links between our interaction with the environment and our mental health. These can be positive – for example, the beneficial impact of access to green space on mental health. In contrast, the effects of climate change can cause significant mental distress.
To address the interplay between the environment and NCDs, both issues must be considered when designing policies and solutions. Alignment of NCD and environmental policies and programs can offer win-win opportunities for people and the planet by fully integrating strategies that benefit both, such as pollution control, healthy urban design and sustainable transport. At an individual level, every one of us can improve our impact on the environment, which in turn improves the impact of the environment on our health. For example, conserving natural resources, being mindful of our consumption and dietary choices, reducing household waste, and choosing to use public or active transport (such as walking and cycling) when possible.
“It’s almost impossible to separate human health and the health of the broader environment. The two are inextricably linked by a whole range of environmental factors that have a direct impact on personal, physical and mental health. It’s important to make these links so that proactive steps can be taken to do something about it, whether that is contributing to climate change, or just living more healthily in response.”
Tim Jarvis AM, British-Australian environmental explorer and AIA Vitality Ambassador.
AIA Australia’s role
The case for investing in health promotion and prevention of NCDs is now stronger than ever. NCDs are the main cause of death and disability worldwide, and yet the main risk factors associated with them are largely preventable. AIA Australia is focused on the critically important work of improving the nation’s health outcomes and helping Australians live healthier, longer better lives.
We are supporting AIA Vitality Ambassador and environmentalist, Tim Jarvis AM and his Forktree Project to return a 133-acre former pastoral property in South Australia back to nature by contributing to the planting of tens of thousands of trees and shrubs at the Forktree site.
AIA Vitality members are also encouraged to support the Forktree Project by donating their weekly Active Benefit to support land restoration and tree planting.