Environmental Health: A Holistic Perspective
By Beatriz Martinez
reviewed by amadou barrow
By educating ourselves on our health status, risks, and possible lifestyle changes we can adopt to boost our wellness, we can improve our quality of life. In the case of environmental health, it can allow us to be more aware of our surroundings and, therefore, it can empower us to adopt positive habits such as mindful consumption or improving our work environment.
Environmental health has a global impact that doesn’t go unnoticed. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2016 that 23% of global deaths are attributed to environmental causes and, when considering the population under 5 years of age, 26% of annual deaths are preventable and could be avoided by removing the environmental factors that cause death.
This series of articles connects the six dimensions of holistic health to understand how prevention through lifestyle and empowerment can improve our overall wellness.
What is environmental health?
Optimal environmental health is based on the prevention of diseases and injuries related to environmental sources and hazardous agents by identifying and reducing risks. These risks are defined as external factors to a person, related to behaviors that can be modified.
Environmental health aims to promote the wellbeing of individuals and provide them with a safe environment in which to develop to their fullest potential. Therefore, it entails the interaction between people and the environment in all its different magnitudes, from the natural environment and our planet, to our home, work, and community environments.
What are the benefits of optimal environmental health?
- Healthy and secure homes and workplaces by decreasing household and occupational risks;
- Decrease in the effects of environmental pollutants on our health, avoiding illnesses and injuries;
- Management of the psychological burden of environmental issues such as climate change, unconscious consumption, and wasteful and toxic practices;
- Increased awareness and appreciation for all things by deepening the connection with ourselves and our surroundings.
What are the key components of environmental health?
According to the WHO, environmental health can be categorized into several categories according to the sector where the risk factors are found: agriculture, industrial/commercial, transportation, housing, and community. SolaVieve aggregates these factors together according to where they are located, dividing environmental health into home environment, work environment, community, and planet.
- Home environments: Our daily decisions can impact our own health as well as our planet, even though sometimes we might not be aware of it. The use of hazardous substances for cleaning, polluted indoor air, high noise pollution, as well as the lack of safe drinking water, for example, can negatively affect our health. On the contrary, being mindful of the risks at home and working to decrease them, and prioritizing eco-friendly practices, may be beneficial for our overall wellness.
- Work environment: Occupational risks include, besides the working conditions, all the physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial risks that can harm us, causing a series of avoidable illnesses and injuries, or preventing us from developing to our full potential in a safe environment. Occupational hazards range from communicable diseases, poisoning with hazardous substances, to falls, drowning, and chronic diseases. A comprehensive approach to occupational risk prevention is essential for professional environments in order to protect our health.
- Community: Our neighborhood has an effect on our overall health. If we’re surrounded by green parks or bike lanes, we’ll most likely be motivated to enhance our physical activity. In addition, if local shops and restaurants offer healthy food, it will be easier for us to adopt a healthy diet. Sanitation, hygiene, and access to healthcare are also important aspects that can affect our health. However, if there is a high crime rate or polluted air, for example, we might not be motivated to adopt a healthier lifestyle within our community.
- Our planet: The status of our natural environment has a great impact on our health. Outdoor air pollution, clean water, radiation, or climate change, among other factors, are negatively affecting our wellbeing while damaging our planet. A mindful approach to our behavior and consumption patterns can protect the planet and ourselves.
How does environmental health connect with other dimensions of holistic wellness?
- Mental: A healthy environment can help us declutter our minds and reduce stress. Access to health care, grocery stores and restaurants that offer healthy foods, or safe spaces for children, for example, can positively affect our mental health, reducing worries. In addition, when feeling motivated and positive, it’s more likely that we can feel empowered to adopt positive lifestyle changes such as mindful consumption or healthier relationships.
- Physical: Safe green spaces, bike lanes, or quality air can motivate us to be physically active. When a city does not have bike lanes, we’ll most likely prefer to take our car or public transportation, contributing to air pollution. Likewise, being more aware of our health can help us feel more conscious about the quality of our surroundings, such as inadequate food options, poor air quality, and substandard living or working conditions, and how they can adversely affect our health.
- Spiritual: Feeling a connection with nature and caring for our planet can allow us to fully explore our spirituality. Being mindful of nature can bring joy into our lives. Simple daily actions such as watching a bird fly, smelling a flower, or feeling the grass under our bare feet can boost our spirituality and the connection with ourselves and with our surroundings.
- Social: Environmental and social determinants of health are closely interlinked. The circumstances in which we live, work, and grow create the social determinants that shape our lives. Social determinants, also influenced by the resources available to us, can affect our exposure to environmental risk factors, which can affect our wellbeing. For example, we may be exposed to pathogens through unclean water or encounter unsafe working conditions. Boosting our social skills while taking care of the environment is possible. The relationship we have with our neighborhood has an effect on our overall health, and transforming green spaces into community gardens, for example, is one of the community activities that can boost our social health while positively contributing to the environment.
- Economic: Our economic behaviors, including the job we perform and our daily choices as consumers, have the possibility to protect or harm our environment. The inverse relationship is also possible: when the environment is damaged, we are more likely to experience negative effects on our economy like, for example, in expenses incurred in the face of occupational injuries. By finding the balance between our everyday activities and protecting the environment, as well as setting up healthy routines, we can experience greater productivity and motivation, leading to better economic health.
SolaVieve is dedicated to making a difference in your overall health and wellbeing. We invite you to explore your environmental dimension by finding out what works best for you, building on your potential, and continuing your holistic journey with us.
I am a journalist specialised in international relations, and writing is my absolute passion. I translate my knowledge and feelings into words, a process that has become my profession and at the same time my personal healing practice. I believe that being curious about what surrounds us is the key to educating ourselves and to further being able to express it to others. I love reading and am mostly interested in politics, human rights, social movements, and the passionate world of health.
My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.
Definitions of Environmental Health | National Environmental Health Association: NEHA. (2021). Retrieved 3 March 2021, from https://www.neha.org/about-neha/definitions-environmental-health
World Health Organization (2018). Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks. Retrieved 3 March, 2021 from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241565196