On April 7th we once again celebrate World Health Day, an important event started and run by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past, the theme of these days would focus on health problems that impacted certain people, or celebrate the health care workers that fight to keep people healthy. This year’s theme is a bit different.
Instead of focusing on an ailment that impacts people directly, this World Health Day focuses on how the wellness of our planet is tied to the wellbeing of its inhabitants. As issues like climate change, plastic pollution, wilderness loss and air quality deterioration get worse, health issues like heart disease, cancer and asthma increase in number and severity.
This World Health Day, the WHO wants to make one thing clear – maintaining the health of our planet, and specifically combating climate change should be our highest priority for thinking about our own long term health.
How Climate Change is Impacting Health
According to the WHO, “over 90% of people breathe unhealthy air resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.” These same fossil fuels are the ones producing greenhouse gases which ultimately trap heat in our atmosphere and change the climate of the planet. By finding ways to reduce emissions, we aren’t just helping our climate stabilize – we’re allowing more fresh air for everyone, and alleviating the health concerns that arise from pollution.
But there are more direct health impacts to climate change. With warming global average temperatures resulting in melting ice caps, ocean levels are rising and posing significant flooding threats to coastal cities. Flooding means more than just property damage. They’re also associated with water-borne viruses like hepatitis, yellow fever and West Nile virus. As floods become more common, so will the serious illnesses that come with them.
Especially for seniors, warmer weather can pose a significant health risk. Extended exposure to hot temperatures can dramatically increase risk of heat stroke, exhaustion, and dehydration. In fact, the temperature that poses danger is lower than previously thought. In a study published this month, it was determined that prolonged exposure to temperatures of 31 degrees celsius with a high humidity posed danger to young, healthy subjects. As the study noted, “the temperature for older populations, who are more vulnerable to heat, is likely even lower.”
It’s clear that when the WHO calls climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity” they’re doing so for a good reason. World Health Day is the perfect excuse to reframe our planet’s health as our health.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Our Planet’s Health
Problems as big as climate change and pollution can seem overwhelming for one person. But when we act together, change can be possible.
On a personal level, there are (sometimes literally) steps you can take. Such as walking instead of driving if you’re only traveling a short distance. Of course, consider your energy levels, mobility and comfort before going any distance. But walking can be a great, low impact exercise that helps keep you in shape and heart-healthy, while producing no additional greenhouse gasses.
Energy use is another way you can contribute to a healthier world. Every light you leave on or appliance left running takes a great deal of energy. Small changes you can make include washing your laundry with cold water, and skipping rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. With modern soaps, these steps are often unnecessary.
Eating for a Healthier World
One of the biggest lifestyle changes you can make to reduce impact on the world is with the foods you choose to eat. As the WHO notes:
“Systems that produce highly processed, unhealthy foods and beverages are driving a wave of obesity, increasing cancer and heart disease while generating a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
At Heart to Home Meals, providing access to food that benefits your health is our top priority. Eating for personal wellness is at the core of what we do. And part of that is our planet’s wellness.
Our menus are designed to help you find a delicious meal that fits with your lifestyle and values, so finding alternative choices is an easy process, if that’s something you’d like to do.
For people who want to go one step further, we also provide healthy, balanced vegetarian options. Plant-based meals generally have lower environmental impacts than meals with meat. Our vegetarian meals are a great option for those looking to eat less meat, even if only a couple days per week.
On April 7th, we’ll be taking a look at our health in a different way. Not just our physical wellbeing, but the wellbeing of the planet we live on, and how that impacts our personal health. The WHO is asking us not just to think of climate change as an environmental problem, but a health issue. This April, think about what steps you can take to make the world a healthier place.