What’s in an environment?Posted on by
Every year, more than 193 countries celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd. Earth Day reminds all of us of our personal and collective responsibility to preserve and protect the environment. Protecting the environment also helps us protect our health.
The word “environment” means different things for different people. For some the environment is the natural world—mountains, forests, rivers, oceans, animals, and the air around us. Others think of “tree huggers,” the green movement, or the motto “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” But everything in the world around us is part of the environment – it is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil beneath our feet, and much more. When environments are polluted or contaminated, they can cause harmful health effects in people.
Recent research has confirmed that many people think “public health” refers to government health programs. But public health is really about protecting populations—tribes, communities, cities, states, and nations—from threats to their health, safety, and well-being.
Bridging two worlds
Environmental public health combines these two topics, and focuses on protecting groups of people from environmental threats to their health and safety. CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry focus on protecting people where they live, work, study, and play.
In order to protect people from environmental health threats, we need to understand basic human needs and how the environment can affect them. Meeting these needs contributes to our physical, mental, and emotional health.
- Basic physical needs that are required for life
- Needs for community that make life easier
- Church or other social group
- Access to medical care
- Emotional, spiritual, relational needs that contribute to personal happiness
- A sense of control of life choices and events
- Ability to be close to others
Staying healthy depends on the safety of our environments. Natural disasters, such as tornadoes or hurricanes, can endanger our physical health by affecting the safety of food, water, and shelter. They can also create unsafe and unhealthy communities by disabling community services or making access to medical care more difficult. Finally, disasters can affect our mental and emotional health by creating family stress and eliminating any sense of control.
- CDC Blog: Your Health, Your Environment
- Infographic: CDC’s built Environments & Health Initiative Saves Lives & Money