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Environmental Health and Environmental Change

The environment has a huge impact on the human life. Environmental factors can cause and promote many health issues and diseases (Moeller, 2005, p. 1). Therefore, it is of vital importance to regard the environment as an essential part of public health. Environmental health can be defined as the sphere of public health aimed at measuring the consequences of the current environmental situation and the way people influence it and vice verse. As nowadays the world faces numerous environmental problems, the primary aim of environmental health is to find efficient solutions able to reduce or eliminate the risks related to the current ecological crisis. Any person involved in providing health care services should have appropriate knowledge about this particular sphere of health care. Analyzing the environmental factors influencing the health of the population, developing appropriate skills to deal with them, and understanding individual role in improving environmental barriers to health are an essential part of duties of every health care provider eager to contribute to promoting better well-being of the patients.

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Synopsis

Environmental health unites several fields aimed at studying the relations between environmental conditions and the health of the population. Environmental epidemiology studies the distribution and determinants of health conditions and diseases, which are related to certain environmental factors (Friis, 2011, p. 28). This discipline focuses on investigating the diffusion of health effects caused by air, water, food, and chemical agents. Epidemiology benefits environmental health by providing observational data, a methodology for study designs, and descriptive and analytic studies (Friis, 2011, p. 29). Environmental epidemiology investigates the frequency of diseases related to environmental factors by studying their prevalence and incidence. Environmental toxicology studies the impacts of different poisons, such as chemicals, on living organisms. This discipline focuses on investigating how “environmental exposures to chemical pollutants” affect organisms (Friis, 2011, p. 51). The discipline deals with such terms as poison, toxic agent, toxic substance, toxicant, toxin, spectrum of toxic dose, and so on. Studying doses and duration of exposures and the responses to them helps to identify potential risks of usage of certain substances and use this knowledge to eliminate them in the future.

Health effects of environmental change are considered one of the primary areas of focus of modern environmental health due to severe changes in climate observed during the recent years. The links between human health and climate change are complex and difficult to address (Frumkin, 2010, p. 311). However, environmental health specialists work on developing strategies able to respond to climate change. Mitigation, or primary prevention, and adaptation, or preparedness, are the cornerstones of such strategies.

Analysis of main concepts of environmental health helps to understand the potential danger of environmental exposures and identify the possible ways of reducing the risks related to them. Professionals working in this field put much effort in discovering mechanisms of diseases related to exposures and finding methods for dealing with the sources of damage. Reducing air, food, and water pollution is another important sphere of their work. Every professional working in medical institutions can contribute to the development of environmental health.

Environmental Factors that Impact Health

Nearly twenty-four percent of “global disease burden” and twenty-three percent of deaths are attributable to environmental factors (Prüss-Üstün & Corvalan, 2006, p. 5). Among children, the proportion of deaths related to environmental conditions is even higher (Prüss-Üstün & Corvalan, 2006, p. 5). These facts brightly illustrate the significance of the impact of environmental factors on human health and the urgency of the problem. Certain factors are identified as putting severe risk on human well-being.

Air pollution is recognized as one of the main environmental factors influencing our health. Outdoor air pollution is related to such factors as burning of fossil fuels in electricity-generating plants, the combustion of fuel, use of diesel engines, etc. (Moeller, 2005, p. 111). Main sources of indoor air pollution include combustion by-products (caused by burning of materials), microorganisms and allergens (e.g. detergents and household pets), formaldehyde and other organic compounds (found in building materials and furnishings), asbestos fibers, tobacco smoke, and radon (Moeller, 2005, p. 119). Indoor and outdoor air pollutions are regarded as one of the main contributors to epidemics of lower respiratory infections, particularly in developing countries. Besides, these factors cause problems in the functioning of lungs, aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illness, and shortened life span.

Unsafe drinking water is considered another environmental factors influencing health. This factor is considered the main cause of diarrhea burden worldwide. Contaminated drinking water causes bacterial diseases (such as salmonellosis, typhoid fever, and gastroenteritis), viral diseases (such as giardiasis and viral hepatitis), and parasitic diseases (Moeller, 2005, p. 168). Most of the diseases related to contaminated drinking water are caused by the presence of animal or human feces. Besides, diseases caused by unsafe water include water contact diseases (schistosomiasis), water-insect-related diseases (malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis), and water-wash diseases (trachoma and conjunctivitis). Food is another environmental factor influencing human health. The implications of its unsafeness are similar to the ones typical for unsafe drinking water. Such disease as amebic dysentery, salmonella infection, and infectious hepatitis are associated with food contamination.

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Workplace hazards, including radiation and exposure to toxic chemicals, present another group of factors that have a negative influence on health. World Health Organization reports that forty-four percent of industrial injuries are caused by environmental factors (Prüss-Üstün & Corvalan, 2006, p. 6). Besides, exposure to an elevated level of radiation and toxic chemicals is frequent through consumer products and housing. Such exposure can cause severe diseases, including respiratory problems (e.g. lung cancer caused by exposure to radon), problems with renal system (e.g. kidney cancer caused by exposure to mercury), improper functioning of immune system (e.g. allergy caused by exposure to pesticides), problems with nervous system (e.g. decreased speech and memory caused by exposure to cyanide), etc (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, n.d., p. 3).

Natural disasters present the environmental factor directly influencing the health and lives of millions of people. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters cause severe injuries, increase the risk of epidemics, and take lives of many people every year. Besides, they directly influence other environmental factors critical for human lives, such as food and water supply and chemical exposure. As natural disasters are difficult to predict or prevent, environmental health focuses on ensuring disaster preparedness and response.

Climate change is another factor influencing human well-being as it puts a huge threat to such environmental factors as safe air, water, and food. Climate change causes extreme high temperatures, which affect the quality of water and the possibility of growing appropriate amount of food. The results of its effects lead to malnutrition and lack of drinking water. Besides, high temperatures contribute to higher rates of fatal incidents related to the cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Extreme heat raises the level of pollutants in the air and directly affects people suffering from asthma by increasing levels of pollen. Climate change also influences the pattern of transmitting infections.

The environmental factors mentioned above have the biggest influence on the human well-being. Along with other minor factors, they are crucial to providing conditions essential for maintaining appropriate health state of the population.

My Role in Improving and Eliminating Environmental Barriers to Health

Every specialist working within health care system can be considered a part of activity aimed at providing environmental health and reducing risks related to external conditions able to harm health and lives of the patients. As a person eager to fulfill the primary duty of any medical worker, defined as promoting appropriate quality of life and well-being of the patients, I look forward to taking part in the process of improving environmental health. Certain activities of primary care providers can improve or eliminate environmental barriers to health.

To address the factors of air pollution and water and food safety, I can put effort in informing the patients about the main causes of indoor air pollution and water and food contamination, and ways of detecting them. Such step will help patients to be aware of possible negative consequences of these factors and know how to prevent them. Besides, continuous monitoring of patients’ health with a focus on symptoms of diseases caused by these factors is of vital importance, as it can help to provide timely treatment and eliminate the particular factor damaging the health. Gathering relevant information and analyzing the tendencies characterizing common health issues and complaints that can be related to the factors discussed above can also contribute to defining the potential environmental barriers and eliminating them.

Addressing chemical and radiation exposures can be based on attaining information about potentially harmful products, pollutants, and chemicals that can be used by the population. Possessing appropriate knowledge is the key to employing preventive methods and providing necessary treatment in time. Besides, health care workers have the right to express their concerns about possible harmful effects of certain products in public. Such activities can raise the population’s awareness of possible hazards and contribute to the process of eliminating them.

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Participating in the research of best practices able to promote healthy environment is one of the primary duties of nurses and other medical workers. Being eager to imply environmental health principles in practice and advocate for eliminating environmental barriers to health is of vital importance for any specialist concerned about the health of the patients.

Environmental health plays an important role in the modern healthcare system, as the concerns about environmental crisis keep growing. Main concepts of environmental health should be analyzed to understand the danger of environmental exposures and determine methods of dealing with them. Main environmental factors influencing human health include air, water, and food safeness, chemical exposures, working place hazards, natural disasters, climate change, and others. Analysis of the causes and the main specifics of the consequences of these factors can help health care providers to find the ways of effective participation in promoting public health. Every health care provider should attain appropriate knowledge and skills to be able to organize his/her professional activity in accordance with environmental health perspectives.

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (n.d.). Health effects of chemical exposure. Web.

Friis, R. (2011). Essentials of environmental health (2nd ed.). Burlington, Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Frumkin, H. (2010). Environmental health: From global to local (2nd ed.). San Francisco, California: Jon Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Moeller, D. W. (2005). Environmental health (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Prüss-Üstün, A, & Corvalan, C. (2006). Preventing disease through healthy environments: Towards an estimate of the environmental burden of disease. Executive summary. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization Press.

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