Earth Matters

Connecting the environment with health

A recent study from researchers at the University of Waterloo found many Ontarians are missing the link between their health and the environment.

When study participants were asked about what factors influence health, the environment was not considered an important determinant of individual or community health. However, when asked about health concerns specific to their community, the participants frequently mentioned environmental issues such as air pollution.

stethoscope on mini globe

When asked about big picture global environmental issues such as climate change, the survey respondents thought these issues were far in the future and therefore did not consider these issues to impact their health.

The figure below, an excerpt from the WHO Report: Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future  shows there are many global environmental issues such as loss of biodiversity, ozone depletion and climate change are impacting human health.

Human health interlinkages infographic

In fact, global changes to our environment can have a significant impact on human health.  Health Canada has identified seven categories of climate-related health impacts including:

  • Temperature related morbidity and mortality
  • Weather related natural hazards
  • Air quality
  • Water and flood borne contamination
  • Vector borne and zoonotic diseases
  • Health effects and exposure to ultraviolet rays
  • Socio-economic impacts on community health and well-being

The following chart from the Canadian Disaster Database shows the increased frequency of weather related disasters in Canada over the last century.

Climate change health risks bar graph

It’s time we started realizing the connection between environment and health!

The two are linked. Institutions such as EcoHealthHealth and Environment Alliance, and  IRDC Ecosystems and Human Health recognize the need for a more integrated approach to the study of environment and health and are promoting and advocating the integration of environment and health.

Next time you hear an environmental news story or conversation about the impacts of climate change or loss of biodiversity, consider not only the effects that it could have on nature but also the effects it could have on human health.

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Read more about the Waterloo Study here:

Read the WHO Report: Our Planet, Our Health, Our Future here:

Read more from Health Canada on climate-related health impacts

Read more about the Canadian Disaster Database

About the author

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Laura Berndt

Laura Berndt (Hough) is the Manager of Energy & Sustainability in Plant Operations at Sunnybrook.