You are here

Health and the environment

Health Environment Banner

John Mielke (centre) and his team are investigating the role that environmental factors early in the life span may play on metabolism and brain development.

The focus of health impacts associated with the environment in the 21st century is on chronic disease – cancer, diabetes, respiratory problems, obesity, cardiovascular disease – all of these highly prevalent diseases are linked, in part, to the environment in which we live.

The built environment is part of our physical surroundings and includes the houses, buildings, parks, schools, road systems, and other infrastructure that we encounter in our daily lives. The links between the built environmental and the way in which land use is planned and health are broad and varied and are related to environmental, behavioural, physical, economic and social factors within the environment that we live.

The environment also includes factors such as the production and release of toxins and pollution; the effects of climate change and natural disasters; and the impact of environmental degradation from deforestation, urbanization, human conflict, mining, and other threats.

The impacts of these factors can include such negative health outcomes as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, heart disease and stroke, some cancers, injuries, stress and social isolation.

Concurrently, our cities are getting bigger and our population is growing. Roads are busier and traffic problems are worse. We are exposed to new chemicals and threats on a daily basis. The way we conduct business is heavily dependent on the electronic flow of information. Changes in our economy have shifted the types of jobs that people seek.

These factors and many others have resulted in changes to our lifestyles that today are generally more sedentary, and in some cases riskier, than they were several decades ago.

Research in action

Philip Bigelow is an expert in occupational health and risk exposure.  He assesses occupational health risks and works to improve health and safety management systems.

Stephen McColl has expertise in toxicology, risk exposure, environmental and occupational health. He and colleague Philip Bigelow are informing environmental policy by examining whether wind turbines have an impact on human health. 

Scott Leatherdale, Jane Law and Susan Elliott are researching how the built environment enhances or inhibits physical activity, obesity, nutrition and other determinants of health.

The built, natural and social environment play some role in 80% of diseases worldwide and  account for 10% of major health outcomes in Canada.

Canadian Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, 2009

World Health Organization, 2006