Skip to main content

The Critical Link Between Environment and Global Health

The saying “we are what we eat” may need an update: “we are where we live.” Our environment—the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the landscapes that surround us—plays a more pivotal role in our health than we often realize. This connection between the environment and our well-being, both individually and globally, is the focus of environmental health, a field dedicated to understanding how our surroundings shape our health outcomes.

Key Takeaways:

  • Environmental factors like air and water pollution, chemical exposure, and climate change have a significant impact on global health.
  • Vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards.
  • Environmental injustice leads to health disparities, where marginalized communities face higher risks.
  • Climate change is a growing threat to global health, impacting everything from extreme weather events to infectious disease patterns.
  • Understanding the relationship between environment and health is crucial for developing effective solutions and promoting sustainable practices.

Our Interconnected World: The Environment-Health Nexus

To truly grasp the impact of the environment on global health, we must first understand the breadth of what “environment” encompasses. It includes not only the natural world—air, water, soil, and ecosystems—but also the built environment—our homes, workplaces, and communities—as well as social and economic factors that shape our lives.

Global health, on the other hand, extends beyond individual well-being. It encompasses the health of entire populations, considering factors such as disease patterns, life expectancy, access to healthcare, and the overall well-being of communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines environmental health as “all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviors.” This broad definition highlights the intricate ways in which our surroundings can influence our health, from the air we breathe to the social structures that shape our lives.

The Critical Link Between Environment and Global Health

Environmental Hazards: The Unseen Threats to Our Health

Our environment can be a source of both sustenance and harm. While nature provides us with essential resources for survival, it can also expose us to a range of hazards that can compromise our health. Let’s delve into some of the most pressing environmental threats and their impact on global health:

Air Pollution: A Silent Killer

Air pollution, often invisible to the naked eye, poses a significant threat to global health.

  • Sources: Industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust, wildfires, agricultural practices, and even dust storms contribute to air pollution.
  • Health Effects: The health consequences of air pollution are far-reaching, including respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological disorders, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
  • Specific Examples: The air quality crisis in Delhi, India, is a stark example of the devastating impact of air pollution. In 2020, the city’s air quality was classified as “severe” for over 200 days, leading to a surge in respiratory illnesses and premature deaths.

Water Contamination: A Hidden Danger

Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, yet water contamination remains a global health crisis.

  • Sources: Industrial waste, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, and inadequate sanitation practices are major contributors to water contamination.
  • Health Effects: Contaminated water can transmit a variety of diseases, including cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and hepatitis A. Long-term exposure to contaminated water can also lead to chronic diseases such as cancer, kidney disease, and liver disease.
  • Specific Examples: The Flint water crisis in the United States highlighted the devastating consequences of lead contamination in drinking water, particularly for children’s developing brains.

Chemical Exposures: The Toxic Burden

We are exposed to a vast array of chemicals in our daily lives, from pesticides in our food to flame retardants in our furniture. While many chemicals are harmless, some can pose serious health risks.

  • Sources: Pesticides, heavy metals like lead and mercury, industrial chemicals, and plastics are common sources of chemical exposure.
  • Health Effects: The health effects of chemical exposure vary depending on the specific chemical and the level of exposure. However, some common consequences include cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, neurological damage, and endocrine disruption.
  • Specific Examples: The widespread use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in consumer products has raised concerns about their potential impact on human health, particularly on reproductive and developmental health.

Related Questions and Answers:

  1. How does air pollution affect children’s health? Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution due to their developing lungs and immune systems. Exposure to air pollution can lead to respiratory problems, asthma, impaired lung function, and even developmental delays.
  2. What are the long-term health effects of exposure to contaminated water? Long-term exposure to contaminated water can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, and neurological disorders. It can also lead to developmental problems in children, including cognitive impairment and behavioral issues.
  3. How can I reduce my exposure to harmful chemicals? You can reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals by choosing organic produce, using natural cleaning products, avoiding products with fragrances, and reading labels carefully. You can also support policies that promote stricter regulation of chemicals and invest in environmentally friendly products.

The Toll of Environmental Hazards on Global Health

Environmental HazardEstimated Annual Deaths Worldwide
Air Pollution7 million
Water Contamination1.24 million
Chemical Exposures1.6 million
The Toll of Environmental Hazards on Global Health

Source: World Health Organization (WHO)

Further Exploration:

  • The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health: This commission provides comprehensive research and recommendations on the global burden of disease caused by pollution.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA offers resources and information on environmental health risks and protective measures. [invalid URL removed]

Understanding the impact of these environmental hazards on global health is the first step towards finding solutions. In the next part of this article, we will explore the role of climate change in exacerbating these risks and delve into strategies for mitigating the environmental burden on our health.

The Toll of Environmental Hazards on Global Health

Climate Change and Environmental Injustice: Exacerbating Global Health Risks

While the environmental hazards discussed previously pose significant challenges to global health, climate change acts as a threat multiplier, intensifying these risks and introducing new ones. Simultaneously, the issue of environmental injustice further complicates the landscape, creating disproportionate burdens for marginalized communities.

Climate Change: A Looming Crisis for Global Health

The effects of climate change are already being felt worldwide, and their impact on human health is undeniable. Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events are all contributing to a growing health crisis.

Extreme Weather Events: A Direct Threat to Human Lives

Climate change is fueling a surge in extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. These events have devastating and immediate impacts on human health:

  • Heatwaves: Prolonged periods of extreme heat can lead to heatstroke, dehydration, cardiovascular stress, and respiratory problems. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing conditions, are particularly at risk. Recent studies have linked heatwaves to increased hospitalizations and mortality rates, particularly in urban areas.
  • Floods: Floods can cause injuries, drownings, and displacement. They can also contaminate water sources, leading to outbreaks of waterborne diseases and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects. The devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022 affected over 33 million people and caused widespread damage to infrastructure and livelihoods.
  • Droughts: Prolonged droughts can lead to crop failures, food shortages, malnutrition, and famine. They can also exacerbate water scarcity, leading to dehydration and increased vulnerability to infectious diseases. The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa is a prime example of how climate change can trigger a humanitarian crisis with devastating health consequences.
  • Wildfires: Wildfires release harmful air pollutants, including particulate matter and carbon monoxide, which can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues. The 2023 Canadian wildfires, which blanketed much of North America in smoke, highlight the far-reaching health impacts of these events.

Changing Disease Patterns: A Shifting Landscape

Climate change is altering the distribution and transmission patterns of infectious diseases. As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents can expand their ranges, bringing diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus, and Lyme disease to new areas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change could cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress alone.

Environmental Injustice: Unequal Impacts on Health

Environmental injustice refers to the disproportionate burden of environmental risks and hazards faced by marginalized communities, often those with lower incomes or belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups. This injustice manifests in various ways, from the location of polluting industries to limited access to clean water and green spaces.

The consequences of environmental injustice are stark. Communities facing environmental injustice experience higher rates of asthma, cancer, lead poisoning, and other health problems linked to environmental exposures. They also face greater vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change, as they often lack the resources to adapt and recover from extreme weather events.

Addressing the Challenges: A Call for Action

Addressing the interconnected challenges of climate change and environmental injustice requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach.

  • Mitigation: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow down climate change and prevent further warming is crucial. This involves transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and adopting sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Adaptation: Investing in infrastructure and systems to protect communities from the impacts of climate change, such as early warning systems for extreme weather events, resilient water and sanitation systems, and climate-smart agriculture.
  • Addressing Environmental Injustice: Prioritizing the needs of marginalized communities in environmental decision-making and ensuring equitable access to clean air, water, and healthy environments.

The health of our planet and the health of its people are inextricably linked. By addressing climate change and environmental injustice, we can protect the health of current and future generations and create a more sustainable and equitable world for all.

Solutions and the Path Forward: Building a Healthier Future

The challenges posed by the environment to global health are complex and multifaceted, but they are not insurmountable. By recognizing the interconnectedness of human health and the environment, we can develop and implement strategies that promote a healthier future for all.

1. Sustainable Development: A Holistic Approach

Sustainable development is a holistic approach that seeks to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It encompasses economic, social, and environmental dimensions, recognizing that these aspects are intrinsically linked. In the context of environmental health, sustainable development means creating environments that support human health and well-being while preserving the natural resources that sustain life. This can be achieved through:

  • Green Urban Planning: Designing cities with ample green spaces, efficient public transportation, and access to healthy food options can promote physical activity, reduce air pollution, and improve overall well-being. For example, the city of Copenhagen has implemented a comprehensive green urban planning strategy that prioritizes cycling, pedestrian-friendly streets, and green roofs.
  • Sustainable Agriculture: Promoting agricultural practices that minimize environmental impact, conserve biodiversity, and ensure food security is crucial for both human and planetary health. This can involve using organic farming methods, reducing pesticide use, and implementing water-efficient irrigation techniques. The Rodale Institute, a leading research organization, has demonstrated the benefits of organic agriculture for soil health, water quality, and human health.
  • Renewable Energy Transition: Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the health impacts of climate change. The Inflation Reduction Act in the United States is a significant step in this direction, providing substantial investments in clean energy infrastructure and incentives for renewable energy adoption.

2. Environmental Policy and Regulation: Safeguarding Public Health

Strong environmental policies and regulations are essential for protecting public health from environmental hazards. Governments, international organizations, and civil society all have a role to play in advocating for and implementing policies that safeguard the environment and human health.

  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): This landmark environmental law in the United States requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and consider alternatives that minimize harm. NEPA has been instrumental in protecting air and water quality, preserving endangered species, and promoting public participation in environmental decision-making.
  • Clean Air Act (CAA): The CAA is a federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. It has been successful in reducing air pollution and improving air quality in the United States, leading to significant public health benefits.
  • Clean Water Act (CWA): The CWA is a federal law that regulates the discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States and sets water quality standards for surface waters. It has played a critical role in improving water quality and protecting aquatic ecosystems.
  • International Environmental Agreements: International agreements, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, provide a framework for global cooperation on environmental protection and health promotion. These agreements set ambitious goals and targets for reducing emissions, adapting to climate change, and promoting sustainable development.

3. The Role of Healthcare Professionals: Advocating for a Healthy Environment

Healthcare professionals have a unique opportunity and responsibility to advocate for environmental health. They can leverage their expertise, influence, and trust to educate patients and the public, influence policy, and promote healthy environments.

  • Environmental Health Education: Integrating environmental health into medical and public health curricula can equip future healthcare providers with the knowledge and skills to address environmental health challenges. This includes understanding the health effects of environmental exposures, identifying vulnerable populations, and promoting preventive measures.
  • Advocacy and Policy Engagement: Healthcare professionals can advocate for policies that protect the environment and public health, such as stricter air and water quality standards, regulations on toxic chemicals, and investments in clean energy. They can also educate policymakers about the health impacts of environmental hazards and the importance of preventive measures.
  • Community Outreach: Healthcare professionals can engage with their communities to raise awareness about environmental health issues, promote healthy behaviors, and advocate for environmental justice. This can involve participating in community health fairs, giving presentations to local groups, and collaborating with community organizations.

4. Community Empowerment: Building Resilient and Healthy Communities

Empowering communities to take ownership of their environmental health is crucial for achieving lasting change. Community-based approaches can be particularly effective in addressing environmental injustices and promoting sustainable practices at the local level.

  • Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR): This approach involves partnering with community members to identify environmental health concerns, design research studies, and implement interventions. CBPR empowers communities to participate in the research process and ensures that research findings are relevant and useful to the community.
  • Community Health Workers (CHWs): CHWs are trusted members of the community who can play a vital role in educating residents about environmental health risks, promoting healthy behaviors, and connecting people to resources. CHWs can also advocate for policy changes and help build community resilience to environmental hazards.
  • Community-Based Organizations (CBOs): CBOs can play a critical role in mobilizing communities, advocating for environmental justice, and implementing sustainable practices. They can also provide support and resources to individuals and families affected by environmental health problems.

The journey towards a healthier planet requires the collective action of individuals, communities, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and international organizations. By working together, we can create a world where everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life in a thriving environment.

Conclusion: Nurturing a Healthy Planet, Nurturing Ourselves

The intricate dance between our environment and global health is undeniable. We are intrinsically connected to the world around us, and its health is our health. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, our environment shapes our well-being in profound ways.

The challenges we face, from air pollution to climate change, are significant. However, they are not insurmountable. By acknowledging the intricate relationship between environment and health, we empower ourselves to make informed decisions, advocate for change, and invest in a healthier future for all.

The path forward involves a multi-faceted approach:

  • Sustainable Development: Embracing practices that promote economic growth, social well-being, and environmental protection is essential for long-term health and prosperity.
  • Policy and Regulation: Strong environmental policies and regulations are crucial for safeguarding public health and ensuring a clean, healthy environment for all.
  • Healthcare Professionals: Their role as educators, advocates, and researchers is pivotal in raising awareness, influencing policy, and finding innovative solutions to environmental health challenges.
  • Community Empowerment: Engaging and empowering communities to take ownership of their environmental health fosters resilience and drives sustainable change at the grassroots level.

Let us remember that our health is inextricably linked to the health of our planet. By prioritizing environmental health, we invest in our own well-being and create a legacy of health for future generations. It’s a shared responsibility that calls for collective action.

As we navigate the complexities of the environment-health nexus, let us be guided by the understanding that our actions today will shape the health and well-being of generations to come. Together, we can build a world where people and planet thrive in harmony.




Inspect the relationship between environment and global health (CO5).

Inspect the relationship between environment and global health (CO5)..

Activity Learning Outcomes 

Through this assignment, the student will demonstrate the ability to: 

  1. Inspect the relationship between the environment and global health (CO5). 
  2. Appraise global health problems considering WHO SDG’s as well as related epidemiological data (CO5). 

Assignment Requirements  

  1. Go to your state (Florida) government web page. Find one health policy enacted within the last two (2) years at the state level. Write down the bill number and the sponsors of the bill and include this information in your initial post. 
  2. Write a minimum of a one-page critical analysis summary of the policy. (250 words double spaced, APA). Your summary should integrate the concepts of advocacy, population health, and the ANA ethical statements (“The Code”), and course readings, to include a minimum of one course scholarly article (provided at the end of the document). Be sure to speak to the role of advocacy and population health.

**To see view the grading criteria/rubric, please click on the 3 dots in the box at the end of the solid gray bar above the discussion board title and then Show Rubric.

DISCUSSION CONTENT  Category  Points  %  Description  Scholarly   13  22%  The student actively stimulates and sustains inquiry by making reflective, insightful comments, asking thoughtful questions and/or engaging in a scholarly discussion.  The student expresses a clear idea of the topic under discussion and sustains inquiry to explore relevant issues. The student recognizes values or values conflict as things that form the assumption basis of arguments and recognizes when it is important to acknowledge these values.  The student recognizes the statements’ accuracy, logic, relevance, or clarity. The student asks clarifying questions and knows when clarifying questions need to be asked.  The student distinguishes fact from opinion.   Application   20  33%  All components of discussion prompt addressed (met) in the initial posting. The student’s writing conveys an understanding of significant ideas relevant to the issue under discussion. This is indicated by integration of course and weekly objectives, as well as readings from text and articles.   All posts should make correct use of terminology, precise selection of the pieces of information required to make a point, correct and appropriate use of examples and counterexamples, demonstrations of which distinctions are important to make, and concise explanations to the point.  Information and knowledge are accurate. The student elaborates statements with accurate explanations, reasons, or evidence from the course and/or weekly objectives. All postings integrate scholarly sources to support points consistently.    Interactive Dialogue  10  16.6%  Responds to ideas in a way that advances discussion with engagement, depth, rigor, and application.  Interacts with a professional tone and is able to express opinions with ownership and without judgement. Chooses to include the professional experience to the discussion board mindful of appropriateness and boundaries. Experience is integrated as it supports the discussion board topic and utilizes scholarly references to support overall topic.     43  72%  Total CONTENT Points= 43 pts  DISCUSSION FORMAT  Category  Points  %  Description  APA(current edition)

12  20%  In text citations are formatted per APA. Reference list is formatted per APA. Spelling, grammar, and scholarly tone per APA.   Spelling / Grammar etc.  5  8%  Posts should utilize correct spelling and grammar(sentence structure and avoidance of slang or casual language).    17  28%  Total FORMAT Points=17 pts    60  100%  DISCUSSION TOTAL=60 points 

Scholarly articles:

Angelini, K. (2017). Climate change, health, and the role of nurses. Nursing for Women’s Health, 21(2), 79-83.

Kurth, E. A. (2017). Planetary health and the role of nursing: A call to action. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 49(6), 598-605.

Kooienga, A. S. & Carryer, B. J. (2015). Globalization and advancing primary health care nurse practitioner practice. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 11(8), 804-811.

Genetics/genomics competencies for RNs and nurses with graduate degrees. (2019). Nursing Management, 50(1), 1-3. (Links to an external site.)

Reed, K. E., Ingram, T. & Edelman, A. E. (2019). Three things every nurse practitioner can do to integrate genetics into practice. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 31(1), 6-7.

Gonzalez, K.,Shaughnessy, M. J., Kabigting, E. R., Tomasulo West, D., Callari Robinson, J. F., Chen, Q., Stewart Fahs, P. (2018). The healthcare of vulnerable populations within rural societies: A systematic review. Online Journal of Rural Nursing & Health Care, 18(1), 112-147.

Morgan, A. S. & Stokes, L. (2017). Overcoming marginalization in the transgender community. American Nurse Today, 12(5), 34-35.

Erie, C. J., Pueringer, R. M., Brue, M. S., Chamberlain. M. A. & Hodge, O. D. (2016). Statin use and incident cataract surgery: A case-control study. Ophthalmic Epidemiology, 23(1), 40-45.

Moukaddem, A., Chaaya, M., Jaffa, M., Sibai, A., Slim, Z., & Uthman, I. (2017). Fibromyalgia: Epidemiology and risk factors, a population-based case-control study in Lebanon. International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, 20(2), 169-176.

Gawlik, K., Melnyk, B., & Tan, A. (2018). An epidemiological study of population health reveals social smoking as a major cardiovascular risk factor. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(5), 1221-1227.

Inspect the relationship between environment and global health (CO5).