Some of the environmental factors of
risk to health are well known: unsafe drinking-water, inappropriate sanitation,
indoor air pollution, infectious and non
communicable disease; others less known, are
climate change and the built
The realization of just how much disease and ill health can be prevented by
focusing on environmental risk factors
should add a significant impetus to global efforts to encourage adapted
preventive health measures through all available policies, strategies,
interventions, technologies and knowledge.
In this context, estimating the burden of disease that could be reduced by
taking measures to decrease these
environmental risks to health is a key
step in identifying and evaluating the most important priorities for targeted
What are the main findings of the report?
This report presents the latest wide-ranging evidence on environment-disease
links and their devastating impact on global health assessment, and detailed
findings and assessment to show by how much and in what ways improving the
environment can promote health and well-being.
Total environmental deaths are unchanged
since 2002, but show a strong shift to non communicable diseases mainly due to a
reduction in the environmental
risks causing infectious diseases.
Among the elements influencing this
situation, one element is the uneven impact on health across life course and
gender. Another element is that these
environmental risk factors affect more
low- and middle-income countries.
The main disease burden that could be prevented through healthier environments
are stroke, ischaemic heart disease,
diarrhoea and cancers. This
environmentally-mediated disease burden is much higher in poorer countries with
the exception of certain non communicable diseases, such as
cardiovascular diseases and cancers,
where the per capita disease burden is greater in the developed world.
Examples of possible actions to address
environmental risks include the
promotion of safer household water storage and better hygiene measures, the use
of cleaner fuels and the safer, more judicious use and management of toxic
substances at home and in the workplace, as well as occupational safety and
What are the main environmental factors that affect health?
Eight main categories of environmental
factors were identified:
- Pollution of air (including from second-hand tobacco
smoke and smoke from cookstoves, the most important
environmental risk), water or soil with
chemical or biological agents ;
- Ultraviolet (in particular,
protection from) and ionizing
- Noise, electromagnetic
- Occupational risks, including physical, chemical,
biological and psychosocial risks, and working conditions ;
- Built environments, including housing, workplaces,
land-use patterns, roads
- Agricultural methods ;
- Man-made climate and ecosystem
- Behaviour related to
factors, e.g. the availability of safe water for washing hands,
physical activity fostered through improved urban design, more healthy
How can the health impact of environmental factors be reduced?
A change in perception to view the environment as an essential element of
health protection would greatly benefit
people’s health. The environment should be viewed as a key element for health
protection and reduction of health
inequalities and placed at the centre of primary prevention. It is estimated,
for example, that 42% of the global
malaria burden could be prevented by
environmental management. To be
most effective and sustainable, these
prevention measures need to be designed and implemented holistically, and action
is needed at all levels of
The determinants of diseases linked to the environment often lie within the
sphere of action of sectors other than health or environment (e.g.
water and sanitation, agriculture, housing, transport), and coordinating. For
example, the use of clean fuels for cooking reduces acute
chronic respiratory diseases,
cardiovascular diseases and burns.
Therefore acting across sectors will be necessary.
More specifically, attention should be drawn to:
- Cities. By 2050, 66% of the world’s
population will be living in
cities, and thoughtful planning and management is needed, since they are
often characterized by heavy traffic, pollution, poor housing, limited
access to safe water and sanitation
services, and other health risks.
- The workplace. In a number of countries at least two thirds of workers
are employed in dangerous, dirty and demeaning working conditions.
- Climate change and
ecosystem change. These also
need to be tackled urgently as they are set to become the most challenging
risks populations will face in the
What link can be made between actions to prevent environmental disease and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations?
Environment-health interventions are based exactly on the SDGs principles and,
as evidenced in this report, can make a significant contribution towards
achieving the SDGs and improving life and health for all.
Within the 17 Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by heads
of state at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, there are clear
health-related targets, but these sit alongside
environmental and other sectoral areas
that also strongly influence determinants of health.