Impact of environmental changes on health

– A brief summary in my words –

Climate change is dramatically changing our environment. The concentration of CO² in the atmosphere, pollution of water and air, rising temperatures, pollution of nature through waste and many other factors associated with climate change have a direct impact on our health.

Heat waves and rising temperatures

It is expected that the frequency of heat waves will triple by the end of the century and that the individual heat waves will last longer. Damage to health caused by heat includes heatstrokes, heart disease and even cardiac arrest. Older people and people who work outdoors (e.g. workers on building sites, agricultural workers) are particularly at risk. The 2003 heat wave alone caused 70,000 deaths across Europe.

It is also expected that the number of infectious diseases will increase significantly. This affects various diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, which were previously known in Germany more as “tropical diseases”.

Increasing precipitation and polluted drinking water

Rising sea levels increase the number of flood victims. By 2100, it is expected that 112,400 people will be affected by such floods every year.

The intensity of precipitation will also increase in the coming years and is associated with a growing risk of the development and spread of communicable (contagious) diseases such as Norovirus, Campylobacter (both diseases with severe diarrhoea). Many other diseases, which are transmitted e.g. through food, animals and polluted drinking water, are also increasingly expected. Thus, the outbreak of COVID-19 disease could also be linked to climate change and the increasing number of diseases, as such disease waves may become more frequent in the future.

Air Pollution

In 2016, 91% of the world’s population will not have clean air to breathe. In the same year, therefore, a total of seven million people worldwide will die as a result of air pollution. Diseases related to air pollution include lung cancer, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and other respiratory diseases.

A recent study also shows that air pollution significantly increases the death rate in people infected with coronavirus.

High levels of air pollution can also contaminate our food, such as rice and cereals, and alter the nutritional content of food. As a result of this and also through microplastics and contamination of drinking water, we absorb more pollutants with our food.

Other influencing factors

In general, extreme weather situations such as droughts and floods caused by rainfall also affect agriculture and thus directly affect our food supply. In poorer countries in particular, the number of people suffering from hunger can rise sharply due to declining harvests. By 2050, the number of deaths worldwide due to malnutrition is expected to increase by 529,000.

The fact that we are increasingly exposed to such extreme conditions can also promote anxiety and depression. Our social life is also increasingly influenced by climate change. It is expected that by 2030 more than 100 million people will suffer from poverty as a result of climate change. These events are increasingly forcing people to flee from their current homes.

This is only a brief summary of the health challenges associated with changing our environment. Other factors, such as microplastics, toxic industrial waste that pollutes groundwater and many other threats directly affect the health of each and every one of us.

Protecting the climate is also protecting your own health!

References

  1. Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States. Xiao Wu, Rachel C. Nethery, Benjamin M. Sabath, Danielle Braun, Francesca Dominici. medRxiv 2020.04.05.20054502; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.05.20054502
  2. Haines A, Ebi K. The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health. The New England journal of medicine. 2019;380(3):263-73.
  3. World Health Organization, United Nations. Climate and Health Country Profile – 2015: Germany. Geneva; 2016.
  4. A Prüss-Ustün, J Wolf, C Corvalán, R Bos, M Neira. Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks. World Health Organization (Hrsg.). Geneva; 2016.
  5. Herrmann A, Sauerborn R. General Practitioners‘ Perceptions of Heat Health Impacts on the Elderly in the Face of Climate Change-A Qualitative Study in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2018;15(5).
  6. Zacharias S, Koppe C, Mücke H-G. Climate Change Effects on Heat Waves and Future Heat Wave-Associated IHD Mortality in Germany. Climate. 2015;3:100-17.
  7. Robine JM, Cheung SL, Le Roy S, Van Oyen H, Griffiths C, Michel JP, et al. Death toll exceeded 70,000 in Europe during the summer of 2003. Comptes rendus biologies. 2008;331(2):171-8.
  8. Solomon CG, LaRocque RC. Climate Change – A Health Emergency. The New England journal of medicine. 2019;380(3):209-11.
  9. Patz JA, Frumkin H, Holloway T, Vimont DJ, Haines A. Climate change: challenges and opportunities for global health. JAMA. 2014;312(15):1565-80.

Scientists 4 Future Heidelberg/ N. Litke

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