Environmental Change Effects on Health


Environmental changes have both negative and positive impacts on human health. While some effects are direct, others are hard to decipher. Researchers claim that environmental changes create a favorable condition for the proliferation of deadly diseases. For instance, floods facilitate the breeding of mosquitoes, which spread malaria and dengue fever. The environmental factors that impact human health include heat waves, floods, and drought among others. Individuals have a role to play in the elimination of environmental barriers to people’s health. For instance, by planting trees and building dams, one may help to reduce floods. On the other hand, the use of water meters and recycling used water can contribute to moderating drought.

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Most people interpret environmental change according to its impacts on physical environment such as rising sea level, melting icecaps, and storm among others. However, research shows that environmental change has adverse effects on human health. Indeed, the impacts of environmental change on human health are a significant challenge to politicians, scientists as well as ordinary citizens. According to Beniston (2002), it is hard to quantify the impacts of environmental change on health due to the multiple factors that are at play. Nevertheless, it is evident that environmental change has dire consequences on human health, and the effects are bound to increase. Beniston (2002) holds that environmental change has both direct and indirect effects on human health. This paper will discuss the impacts of environmental change on human health. Additionally, it will examine the environmental factors that affect people’s health. The paper will also discuss the role of an individual in combating environmental barriers to health.


Researchers claim that there is a high correlation between environmental change and human health. They allege that environmental changes result in the emergence of deadly diseases as well as numerous threats to human health. Beniston (2002) argues that environmental change “contributes to over 150, 000 deaths and 5 million illnesses each year” (p. 334). Environmental changes have resulted in fluctuations in heat waves, floods, variations in rain patterns and threats of water-borne illnesses.

According to Beniston (2002), steady environmental change can harm human health. In the past twenty years, the United States has recorded exponential growth in the rate of asthma cases. Medical practitioners associate the growth with environmental changes. Scientists warn of increase in health hazards in the future if measures are not taken to mitigate environmental changes. Currently, it is not hard to experience cold spells or heat waves due to sudden variations in temperatures. The heat waves are blamed for an increase in the number of fatal diseases like hypothermia and heat stress. Statistics indicate that environmental changes have led to rising in the rate of respiratory illnesses.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that environmental change has created a disease-friendly environment in areas that were once disease-free. Environmental change intensifies the spread of illnesses as it creates conditions that support the growth and survival of disease-carrying microorganisms, viruses, and germs (Chivian & Bernstein, 2008). Additionally, environmental changes contribute to the illnesses that are spread by rodents and mosquitoes. Bentham and Langford (2006) argue that environmental change has led to increase in cases of mental health and malnutrition. However, it is difficult to draw a direct correlation between environmental changes and mental health or hunger.

Bentham and Langford (2006) maintain that environmental changes have led to extreme weather conditions that have culminated in a reduction in food production. Indeed, the emergence of seasonal floods and drought in West Africa has made it difficult for farmers to grow crops. In return, many people in the region suffer from malnutrition. The effect of environmental change on mental health is a new area of study. Nonetheless, it should not be undervalued. Individuals who endure severe environmental changes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders and other kinds of mental problems. Bentham and Langford (2006) claim that not all environmental changes have adverse effects on human health. Some environmental changes are beneficial to the old. For instance, people who dwell in temperate regions are not likely to suffer from cold during severe winters.

Environmental Factors that Impact Health

Numerous environmental factors have both direct and indirect impacts on human health. Chivian and Bernstein (2008) claim that harmful particles and chemicals found in the soil and air comes as a result of environmental change. One of the environmental factors that impact health is heat waves. Heat waves come as a result of drastic changes in weather conditions. Chivian and Bernstein (2008) claim that heat waves not only affect human health but also lead to fatalities. In 2003, over 15,000 people died as a result of heat waves in France. Heat waves pose a significant health threat to the elderly. Besides, individuals that work in environments with extremely high temperatures suffer from heat stroke or heat exhaustion. The increase in temperatures also contributes to the outbreak of numerous diseases such as malaria.

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Chivian and Bernstein (2008) identify particulate matter as another environmental factor that impacts health. The particulate matter ranges from liquid drops to solid particles that are present in the air. Studies suggest that particulate matter that is present in the air affects human health in different ways. For instance, exposure to lead inhibits cognitive development among the infants. In Missouri, children exhibit behavioral and learning problems due to exposure to lead. The children suffer from lower intelligence quotient (IQ) levels and have difficulties in hearing. Chivian and Bernstein (2008) claim that exposure to lead is perilous as it is difficult to detect unless one conducts a blood test.

Drought is another environmental factor that has adverse effects on human health. Kovats and Hajat (2008) argue that drought has indirect impacts on human health. For instance, it contributes to a reduction in the supply of clean water and creates an environment that favors vector-borne diseases. Scientists are yet to identify the direct impacts of drought on human health. Nevertheless, some experts claim that there is a correlation between drought and mental problems. Drought leads to socioeconomic challenges, which make people suffer from mental health issues. Besides, drought results in death due to starvation. In return, it leads to the bereaved suffering from emotional distress.

Rathzel and Uzzell (2009) cite floods and storms as other environmental factors that impact human health. According to Rathzel and Uzzell (2009), floods and storms may have short-term or long-term health effects. The high amount of rainfall coupled with winds leads to extensive floods. Rathzel and Uzzell (2009) hold that the floods may damage water treatment plants, resulting in contamination and therefore, the outbreak of gastroenteritis. Further, floods may cause power interruption leading to food spoilage and ultimate food poisoning. Floods are associated with multiple infectious diseases like respiratory infection, wound infection, vector-borne diseases, and diarrhea.

My Role in Eliminating Environmental Barriers to Health

People can eliminate the environmental barriers to health in many ways. For instance, one may erect barriers or dikes along the river to mitigate floods. Additionally, one may divert water from the main channel into open pools. Such a move would help to minimize the force of the floodwaters, thus mitigating damages. Flood mitigation ought to be a collective endeavor. Every person can play a role in preventing floods. Planting trees can go a long way towards mitigating floods. Trees hold water allowing it to seep into the ground instead of flowing into the drainage systems (Rathzel & Uzzell, 2009). Therefore, one way that an individual may assist in the fight against floods is by planting more trees. Minimizing water usage can help to mitigate drought. The water used in the showers can be recycled rather than letting it go to waste. According to Kovats and Hajat (2008), such water can be used to irrigate lawns. In California, the water used for cleaning is recycled and utilized for flushing toilets. Building water pans and using tanks to collect rain water are other measures that one can use to eliminate drought. In Australia, people collect rainwater, a step that helps them to withstand drought.

Procuring a water meter can help one to minimize water wastage. Families that do not have water meters cannot account for the amount of water they use on daily basis. Many people are opposed to the use of water meters in the United States because it limits them to the quantity of water they can use per day. The main reason California has not managed to overcome drought is the high number of people who do not use water meters (Rathzel & Uzzell, 2009). The water vendors are unable to determine the amount of water that every household spends. As a result, it is hard for the state to manage the constrained water resources. Individuals can ensure efficient usage of water resources by procuring water meters. The move can go a long way towards ensuring that every household has adequate water in case of drought.

Experts encourage the use of ceiling and box fans to fight heat waves. Additionally, one can minimize the impacts of heat waves by opening doors and windows during the day. Leaving the doors and windows open allows air circulation, thus expelling the hot air that might accumulate in the room. One can also eliminate heat waves by switching off appliances that might produce heat (Chivian & Bernstein, 2008). For instance, one may stop using incandescent light bulbs since they produce a lot of heat. Exposure to lead is considered as one of the environmental hazards that affect young children. One can mitigate this challenge by watching the family’s hygiene and diet. Consuming a lot of fat exposes people to the danger of lead absorption. Therefore, one can minimize lead poisoning by ensuring that the family avoids consuming a lot of fat and eats a balanced diet. Further, one needs to encourage children to wash their hands regularly to prevent ingesting lead.

Summary and Conclusion

Environmental changes have both positive and negative impacts on human health. The impacts may either be direct or indirect. Scientists blame the rise of deadly diseases to environmental changes. Among the environmental factors that impact people’s health include drought, floods, storms, heat waves and particulate matter among others. People can mitigate environmental barriers to human health through different ways. One may plant trees and build dikes to minimize floods. On the other hand, procurement of water meters and construction of water reservoirs can help to mitigate drought. Ensuring proper ventilation and switching off electric appliances can help one to cope with heat waves.

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Beniston, M. (2002). Climatic change: Possible impacts on human health. Swiss Medical Weekly, 132(2), 332-337.

Bentham, G., & Langford, I. (2006). Environmental temperatures and the incidence of food poisoning in England and Wales. International Journal of Biometeorology, 45(3), 22-26.

Chivian, E., & Bernstein, A. (2008). Sustaining life: How human health depends on biodiversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kovats, R., & Hajat, S. (2008). Heat stress and public health: A critical review. Annual Review of Public Health, 29(1), 19-32.

Rathzel, N., & Uzzell, D. (2009). Changing relations in global environmental change. Global Environmental Change, 19(2), 326-336.

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