Health Effects of Environmental Change


Environmental, societal and life-style factors have a huge impact on human health. Several factors in the environment contribute to ill health in humans. The issue of global warming has hugely contributed to ill health both directly and indirectly. Food supply in the modern environment has also had an impact on health and has contributed to obesity and general ill health. The quality of water is influenced by environmental factors that must be checked. Nursing provides a platform for environmental mitigation since it provides the relevant education to communities that help prevent environmental impacts on health.

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Environmental changes present several health effects on human health. This paper will describe how both food scarcity and obesity increase due the modern environment. The health implications of global warming will also be described. The environmental conditions that affect the quality of water will also be discussed. The paper will describe the roles of a nurse in ensuring a healthy environment.


The health of individuals is dependent on the health of their environment. Global warming is one of the factors that negatively affect human health. It causes the general rising of atmospheric temperature and may lead to heat waves and wildfires that may be harmful. Global warming contributes to increased incidences of floods, storms and heat waves. Certain disease outbreaks occur in warmer environments hence supported by global warming.

Food scarcity and obesity have increased due to modernity (Higenbottam, 2008). Food scarcity occurs as the demand for food increases (due to factors such as population growth) and its supply decreases due to reduction in productivity. Low productivity occurs in areas that have experienced environmental degradation. Such areas may have been affected by soil erosion, growing water shortages and increased temperature due to global warming. Increase in cheap foods rich in fats and sugar results in increased incidences of obesity among communities.

Pollution is one of the leading factors that contribute to environmental degradation. Water pollution may occur when wastes are not disposed correctly or treated effectively. When water is polluted, human populations are likely to suffer from water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Cancers and damaged nervous systems are other likely effects of polluted water.

With the knowledge acquired in nursing, one is able to address some of the environmental issues that cause ill health in humans. Communities can be encouraged to adopt environmental-friendly activities in order to conserve the environment and avoid environmental degradation. Individuals suffering from obesity should exercise more and eat healthy.

Environmental Factors That Impact Health

Food supply

The world has been rapidly changing from its state of food abundance to one of food scarcity. Reduction in food supply has led to the increase in food prices and spreading hunger. Whereas demand for food has increased due to factors such as increase in population, the supply side has been suffering due to rising affluence and the conversion of certain foods into automobile fuels. The modern environment is characterised by increased soil erosion, growing water shortages and increased temperature due to the effects of global warming leading to decreased productivity.

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In most areas of the world including the United States, conservation efforts have been made in order to conserve the environment. The Conservation Reserve Program, for example, targets land that is at high risk of environmental degradation. For this reason, there is hardly any productive land readily available for production. Food scarcity seems to be the cause of increased competition for land and water resources.

The prevalence of obesity has been on the increase over the years. Wisman and Capehart (2009) suggested that the prevalence of obesity doubled over the past two decades. This trend was evident in individuals of each gender, race, age and socioeconomic status. Wisman and Capehart explored the relationship between increased prevalence of obesity and increased insecurity and stress in an environment whereby there was readily available foods with high fat and sugar content. It has often been argued that the poorer populations are unable to afford healthier foods and lack exercise opportunities unlike the rich individuals. However, Wisman and Capehart argued that the problem is caused by increased insecurity and stress in an environment where foods rich in sugar and fat are readily available.

The current obesity epidemic may be largely attributed to the situation in the modern world that encourages people to eat more and exercise less. For example, inexpensive energy-rich foods are readily available. In addition to this, the modern world is characterised by innovations and inventions such as lifts and remote controls that reduce labour requirements. Therefore, increasing urbanization and major changes in transportation have largely contributed to the increase in cases of obesity.

The health effects of obesity are diverse. Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, stroke, hypertension, gallstones, heart disease and some cancers are caused by the condition. This makes obesity a major cause of preventable disease and death. Obesity can also cause reproductive problems since it causes menstrual issues and infertility in women. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that may be caused by obesity. This occurs when there are more pauses in breathing while asleep. This is caused by the narrowing of air passage due to increase in fat stored around the neck.

Global Warming

Global warming has increased the risks of injury, illness and death. The occurrence of floods, storms, heat waves and wildfires is to blame. Extreme temperatures may persist for several days. This is referred to as a heat wave. Extreme temperatures may also occur when night temperatures do not drop. In this case, such conditions may be deadly. Changes in temperatures due to global warming may also result in drought that encourage peat and forest fires that may be harmful to human health.

Global warming may affect the quality of air. Smog may be caused by warm air, sunlight and pollutants from power plants and automobiles. High temperatures and poor air quality may affect certain individuals more than others. For example, the elderly and those that are ailing may suffer more in such conditions. Those with heart and respiratory diseases are likely to be the worst hit. Allergens thrive more in certain areas. Areas with warmer temperatures and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide are most favourable. Allergens may cause chronic diseases that are harmful to human health. It has also been suggested that warmer environments increase the risks of cholera outbreaks and harmful bacteria (Yetunde & Olusola, 2012).


It is obvious that clean water is essential for healthy living. Every human being requires an adequate supply of clean drinking water in order to survive. However, freshwater sources are threatened by several factors. Such factors include poor management, over exploitation and ecological degradation. Pollution is one of the greatest threats. The discharge of untreated waste, leaching from agricultural farms and dumping of industrial waste cause pollution. Growth of industries and urbanization has led to the increased use of non-biodegradable materials that may adversely affect water quality. Developed states mainly experience problems of chemical discharge into water sources. Such wastes may also find their way into groundwater and cause health problems. Pollutants may cause certain diseases. For example, high concentrations of arsenic in water may cause arsenic skin lesions. High concentrations of fluoride are also dangerous. Several water-borne diseases are caused by water pollution. They include intestinal disease, hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery and cholera. Water that is polluted by pesticides may cause harmful effects on human health because the chemicals may cause cancers and damage the nervous system. Others contain chemicals that may damage the endocrine system and cause reproductive health problems. Other harmful chemicals include lead and nitrates.

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My role in eliminating environmental barriers to health

In nursing, environmental health may be achieved through the assessment, correction, control and prevention of those environmental factors that may be harmful to the present and future generations. As a nurse, I would conduct home environment assessments in ravaged communities. For example, I would conduct door-to-door assessments and give particular attention to the quality of drinking water, modes of sewage disposal, solid waste disposal and assessment of air quality. The waste storage and treatment activities would need to be effective to ensure that pollution is minimized or avoided. Therefore, my role would be to promote comprehensive pollution prevention practices. I would also encourage the use of environmentally safe materials, products and technology.

I would educate the community on how to avoid certain health risks that come about pollution. For example, old houses that have layers of lead paint may cause lead poisoning (National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, 2002). When lead paint ages over time, it produces lead dust. This dust may cause poisoning especially to children. With this information, individuals can renovate such houses in order to protect their children. Children can also be educated on how to avoid bringing lead from off the street by washing their hands and wiping their feet in order to rid their homes of lead dust. I would also encourage such children to eat foods high in calcium and vitamin C.

As a nurse, I would conduct outreach programs and educate the community on issues such as fire prevention. In dry areas, fires are likely to occur. Therefore, environmental health education is important for the communities. Since obesity is a big problem, education on stress reduction is important. I would encourage the persons suffering from obesity to exercise more and eat natural and healthy foods.

My role in addressing the health effects of climate change would be to educate many people on the effects of climate change. I would encourage them to make small adjustments in their homes that would have huge impact on the environment. For example, they could use energy efficient bulbs, turn off electric devices not in use and hang laundry outside to dry instead of using machines. They could also drive fuel-efficient cars and plant trees in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emission (Higenbottam, 2008).

Summary and Conclusion

A healthy environment is necessary for a healthy population. Global warming is a threat to human health because it changes the environmental factors. Floods, storms, heat waves and wildfires have been accelerated due to environmental changes. This has also contributed to food scarcity that has led to the introduction of high-energy foods that are cheap. Such foods contribute to obesity and other related illnesses. Nurses should provide education in order to help eliminate environmental barriers to health.


Higenbottam, N. (2008). Nurse’s role as an environmental activist. Toronto, ON: York University.

National Environmental Education & Training Foundation. (2002). Nurses and Environmental Health: Success Through Action. Washington, DC: The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation.

Wisman, J., & Capehart, K. (2009). Creative Destruction, economic insecurity, stress and epidemic obesity. Working Paper, 8(26), 1-41.

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Yetunde, O., & Olusola, M. (2012). Global warming: Implications for nursing. International Journal of Nursing and Midwifery, 4(5), 59-63.

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