Human health and the health of the natural environment cannot be disassociated from one another

Planetary Health means that the health and welfare of humans and the nature around them are interdependent and inseparable. If the state of the natural environment and the climate could be substantially enhanced, this would also have significant effects on human health.

To mark the end of Finland’s EU Presidency, the sector’s leading scientists, experts and decision-makers from around the world will arrive in Helsinki this December. They will discuss concrete methods for how the negative cycle of interdependency between the Earth’s health and human health can be flipped into a positive one.

By providing humans a clean and diverse local environment and securing the functions of the Earth’s natural systems, we can have a substantial impact on human health.

The diversity and functionality of the air, water and soil have deteriorated dramatically over the past few years due to human activities. This also has a negative impact on the physical and psychological health of humans and is detrimental to their welfare. Significant impacts begin in early childhood starting from the foetal phase, but environmental factors can be used to promote human health throughout a person’s life.

Recent studies have shown that a person’s proximity to nature strengthens their immunity to allergies and other autoimmune diseases and prevents stress and other mental health disorders. In addition, the natural environment motivates us to engage in physical activity.

Climate change as well as water and air pollution lead to significant negative health impacts such as symptoms of heat exhaustion, parasitic diseases as well as pulmonary and cardiac diseases.

Tackling climate change and environmental pollutants will prevent negative impacts on the environment and health, as well as preserve biodiversity.

Planetary health as a subject is challenging as it combines research from different fields of science and decision-making in various administrative branches. Sustainable development, where numerous societal challenges are defeated simultaneously will require a more comprehensive approach. Stubbornly holding on to old methods for problem-solving has only resulted in more problems for humanity.

Planetary health-thinking is an excellent example of promoting sustainable development. Sustainability science plays a key role in the search for approaches that will help in recognising the positive links between human and nature’s health and in implementing changes to things such as healthcare practices and people’s routines.

Planetary health belongs to everyone on this planet. For this reason, it is important that everyone has access to a safe and healthy living environment.

It is fundamental that society, communities and citizens work to extensively implement approaches for enhancing and promoting living environments and natural systems. Extensive cooperation, political commitment and adequate resourcing will facilitate this change.

There are excellent examples in Finland of previous research-based national programmes for affecting health. In addition, the Natural steps towards wellbeing project has provided Finland with good opportunities for acting as a test platform and as a model country in the preservation of sustainable development and health both in Europe and globally.

Written by: 

Eeva Furman, Director of the Environmental Policy Centre, Finnish Environment Institute

Jaana Halonen, Research Programme on Safe and Health Promoting Environment, Research Programme Director, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)

More information:

Watch a video about the project ”Natural steps towards wellbeing” (click video settings for English subtitles)

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