Updated: Apr 25, 2021
Written by Celina Tang, Sukham Brar and Paula Magbor
Edited by Jocelyn Tan and Kyla Finlayson
To continue our One Health Blog Series (check out our first post here), we will be diving into the environment pillar of the One Health approach, specifically discussing the built, social, and natural environment. This pillar, like the others, is heavily dependent on the other pillars of One Health, so be sure to keep an eye out for our next two posts in the series in the coming weeks!
One of the first things that come to many people's minds when thinking of environmental health is the natural environment. Our planet can be categorized into five broad spheres. Earth is covered with water either in a liquid state in lakes, oceans, and rivers, which make up the hydrosphere, or with glaciers and polar ice caps, which make up the cryosphere. The Earth's rocky and sandy terrains, like mountain ranges, volcanoes, and deserts make up the geosphere, providing our world with minerals and other natural resources. The gases, which contribute to our climate, make up the atmosphere. The interaction of these spheres, which provide nutrients and energy for the vast range of living organisms, is what is known as the biosphere. From the smallest microscopic bacterium to the largest trees and animals, all living organisms depend on the environment for sustenance and energy, thus making the protection of our environment all the more essential.
Ecosystems have a certain level of resilience that allows them to recover from ecological damage or adapt to changes. Unfortunately, there is only so much the environment can handle before it is no longer able to adapt to such disturbances. Over the years, intensive human activities, such as overfishing, deforestation, and burning fossils, are the major contributors to climate change and biodiversity loss. We depend on our environment to provide our water, habitats, food, and air. An integrated One Health approach recognizes the interconnected nature of human, animal, and environmental health when addressing health issues.
Image source: https://www.wdgpublichealth.ca/bh01mar0619r09-built-environment-baseline-indicators-project-report
The built environment is the human-made environment in which we live in. Some elements of the built environment are neighbourhoods, playgrounds, transit systems, schools, and buildings. Our built environment not only impacts environmental health, but human and animal health, too.
Biodiversity has been adversely impacted by the creation of our built environment. The built environment has altered the environment through habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation, which has led to the decline of many plant and animal species. Additionally, a rise in air pollution is a concerning issue that stems from the expansion of our built environment and can negatively impact the health of animals and the environment. An example of a source of air pollution is the increased reliance on cars as transportation.
Our built environment greatly influences our lifestyle choices and consequently plays a role in our health. For example, access to goods and services is impacted by the design of our built environment. Some neighbourhoods, especially poor or rural communities, are often classified as food deserts that have limited access to affordable and nutritious food. This can affect the diet of these individuals and lead to poor health outcomes. Another concern regarding the built environment and human health is the lack of sidewalks and bicycle pathways, therefore promoting sedimentary lifestyles through reliance on cars. This can negatively influence our physical activity, leading to outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.
There is no doubt that humans and many animals are considered social beings. In particular, our mental and physical health is directly related to the quality and frequency of meaningful social interactions that we experience and the social connectedness that exists in our everyday lives. This has has only become more evident with COVID-19's implications and restrictions over the last several months.
The social environment consists of society and surroundings that are influenced by humans. It includes relationships and cultures as well as social systems, such as institutions. These social systems moderate human health as well as pressing issues, such as climate change. The social systems a country builds determines how well it is able to adapt and respond to climate change. Furthermore, these social systems need to be stable in order to avoid stressors that impact mental health. Examples of distal stressors include those pertaining to resource availability and poverty. Examples of proximal stressors include those pertaining to changes in economics or power.
The social environment is supported by the built environment. Parks and other developed green spaces provide people a place for interacting and forming relationships with others, all the while benefitting one's mental and physical health.
To conclude, all the components of environmental health mentioned are important to consider when trying to achieve the One Health goal of attaining optimal health for humans, animals, and the environment. In our next blog posts in this series, we will be discussing the animal and human pillars, so look out for them!
If you are interested in learning more about One Health, be sure to check out our internship and research panel on February 4th at 6PM. This is a great opportunity to hear from students who have experience in policy, dry lab, wet lab, industry, and more! There will be a question and answer period as well!