Planetary Health and World Health Day
April 6, 2023
Each year on April 7th, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosts World Health Day. This year’s topic is “Health For All,” a movement bringing countries together to promote the highest level of health and well-being all over the world. Additionally, World Health Day 2023 marks the WHO’s 75th anniversary. Since 1948, countries of the world have come together to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.
Planetary Health is the idea that human wellbeing in the long-term is dependent on the wellbeing of the earth, including living and nonliving things. The term “Planetary Health” has been around for a few decades, but has become more significant as climate change, pollution, nutrition, and mental health continue to worsen.
How Planetary Health Is Impacting the World
- Rising Temps/Climate Change
Despite efforts to lower the risks, human-induced climate change is disrupting nature in a detrimental way and affecting the lives of billions of people worldwide. According to scientists, the connection between climate change and other global trends, such as the unsustainable use of natural resources, expanding urbanization, socioeconomic inequities, losses and damages from severe events, and pandemics, puts future development at risk. With a 1.5°C (2.7°F) increase in global warming over the next two decades, numerous climate risks are unavoidable. Even briefly going above this temperature threshold will have significant consequences, some of which may be permanent.
Every day, ninety-nine percent of people worldwide breathe unhealthier air than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended 15 micrograms (ug) of particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less (PM2.5). Air pollution is expected to be the cause of seven million premature deaths annually. Polluted water, soil, and air all impact the state of planetary health. According to estimates made by the World Health Organization in 2012, exposure to these contaminated mediums caused 8.9 million deaths worldwide, of which 8.4 million were in impoverished nations.
In addition, climate change is responsible for illness and disease due to an increase in extreme weather events. Floods, storms, heatwaves, and a disruption of food systems can increase risk of food, water, and vector-borne diseases. Vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, such as women, children, the elderly, and low-income communities are at more risk of these climate-related illnesses.
- Nutrition/Mental Health
Over the past 50 years, increased food production has decreased hunger, infant and child mortality rates, and overall poverty while also increasing life expectancy. However, current trends toward unhealthy diets are canceling out these advantages. This nutrition transition is unsustainable and negatively impacts human health.
Current food production is also contributing to biodiversity loss, pollution, and significant changes in how land and water are used. The production of animal-based foods are shown to emit more greenhouse gasses than producing plant-based foods. Food production does not only emit greenhouse gasses, it requires a lot of natural resources and contributes to deforestation, extinction of species, and freshwater decrease and contamination.
According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there will likely be a rise in the negative effects on mental health brought on by exposure to high temperatures, extreme weather, and climate-related economic and social losses, as well as anxiety and distress brought on by worries about the global warming crisis. Furthermore, studies have shown cognitive development in children can be impaired by high concentrations of tiny, inhalable particles (PM 2.5).
UNICEF’s Danger in the Air report states that exposure to high levels of air pollution may cause psychological and behavioral issues later in childhood, including anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Planetary health education is growing rapidly, with new courses, lecture series, degree programs, academic posts, and cross-university partnerships appearing everywhere.
By educating individuals on planetary health, countries and citizens can help implement a healthier planet. Reducing exposure of pollutants at their source, such as by banning asbestos or eliminating lead from gasoline, as well as developing and implementing policies to minimize water and air pollution, are all successful control measures that are implemented in high-income countries.
Additionally, many countries provide opportunities for positive climate action by initiating change in major cities such as sustainable transport systems linking urban to rural areas, green buildings, renewable energy, and clean water. Taking action on the theme of “Health for All” will have a positive impact on the global community. This action will have a positive effect on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of individuals, families and communities.
Action on Health for All will help to reduce health inequalities and ensure that everyone has access to affordable healthcare. Additionally, it will help provide equitable climate action and education to communities all around the world. Taking action on Health for All will also help to improve the overall quality of life of all individuals and communities, as well as improve the economic health and productivity of all countries.
Educating future generations on climate and health is essential for keeping our planet, and the living things that reside on it, healthy. The Climate Education Coalition’s mission is to educate younger generations on how to maintain good planetary health practices to keep resources sustainable and available for generations to come. Additionally, through The Climate & Environmental Literacy Campaign, EDO can ensure a quality education in environmental stewardship to students across the world.