A healthy environment for a healthy population

The link between the environment and health has been acknowledged as long ago as the 19th Century when Edwin Chadwick made the connection between poor health and sanitation in London, leading him to champion a programme of social reform.

However, the importance of environmental health for the health of the public is still often overlooked. With ongoing environmental degradation and a growing global population however, it is becoming increasingly critical to recognise this link and coordinate health and environment policy.

This is the argument made in Tim Lang and Geoff Rayner’s book Ecological Public Health: Reshaping the Conditions For Good Health published earlier this year and recently championed by the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman who stated that ‘we need to protect the natural world not out of kindness or altruism towards other species, but because their conditions of existence and health are inseparable from our own’.

The health of society is dependent on the environment in more ways than might be immediately obvious; ecological processes clean our water and air, healthy soils and pollinators ensure the growth of crops, diverse habitats such as rainforests hold potential pharmaceutical compounds whilst green spaces offer opportunities for exercise and fresh air and can significantly improve mental well-being.

Caroline Spelman states that ensuring the continuation of these considerable health benefits provided by the natural environment will require a move to long-term thinking in public health policy which fully integrates issues relating to the natural environment, creating a ‘national health system that is interested in health and wellbeing, rather than just illness’.

The Environment Secretary acknowledges that the transformation needed is huge, but stresses that ‘it becoming increasingly difficult to justify business-as-usual’.

Content adapted from original article for The Guardian.