In 2021, AIA recognised interaction with the environment as a fifth modifiable risk behaviour or lifestyle factor (in addition to smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and excessive alcohol consumption) that contribute to five deadly NCDs in New Zealand – heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes and poor mental health.
The Environment and Our Health report delves into this insight deeper, identifying four distinct areas within the overall concept of “interacting with the environment” that are harming our health: climate change, air pollution, agriculture and food production, plus urbanisation and the built environment.
“Climate change represents more regular and extreme weather events impacting our wellbeing and resilience. Air pollution is exacerbated by the use of internal combustion engine vehicles and industrial emissions, as well as poor in-home ventilation – which causes respiratory illness associated with dampness,” Elikhis says.
“Unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to environmental degradation, including biodiversity loss, freshwater use and land-system change, while dietary shifts to more processed foods impact on nutritional quality and costs of our foods causing a range of chronic health conditions, such as obesity.
“Urbanisation – which is the process of the population shifting from rural to urban areas – provides economic benefits, but also commonly creates adverse side effects for NCD-related health outcomes like increased sedentary behaviour through office work, commuting in private vehicles, and a less nutritious diet.”