Identify and critically discuss the major features of an environmental health policy

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Environmental health can cover a large sphere of elements and is in many cases intrinsic to a great deal of general health. There are a number of definitions as to what environmental health compromises of one definition states: Environmental health comprises those aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing, correcting, controlling and preventing those factors in the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of present and future generations.

As you can see the concept of environmental health can be varied and involve a whole plethora of components which are to some extent intrinsically linked. There is also another aspect linked to the concept of environmental health which is closely related to policy and that is the services involved in this sphere and as a result: Environmental health services are those services which implement environmental health policies through monitoring and control activities.

They also carry out that role by promoting the improvement of environmental parameters and by encouraging the use of environmentally friendly and healthy technologies and behaviours. They also have a leading role in developing and suggesting new policy areas. Currently there are a large amount of issues which are at the forefront of debate and it is the aim of the current government to try and come up with a range of ideas, strategies and policies to deal with the current health situation.

In order to look at in detail a particular piece of environmental health policy it is necessary to look at some of the major health issues which need policy implication and furthermore the other intrinsic issues which relate to some of the key policy aims. It is evident that over the years elements of environmental health have been key to a variety of government policies and in many cases policy will reflect one aspect or another relating to environmental health.

One of the key pieces of support for integrating health and environmental concerns into policy was the Ottawa Charter which states that ‘health cannot be separated from other goals’ and furthermore ‘The inextricable links between people and their environments constitutes the basis for a socio-ecological approach to health’ (WHO 1986 in Jones and Sidell 1997). From this it is widely received that elements of the environment whether socio-economic or physical play a crucial part in enabling people to live a healthy life.

However it is also clear that aspects of the environment can play a huge part in reducing one’s ability to live such a lifestyle and as a result key environmental factors can have an adverse effect on someone’s health. When looking at some of the Government’s policies relating to health it is evident that environmental factors play a key part. Perhaps on of the most important policies on the current government’s mind is to tackle inequalities in health which in a large number of cases are a result of environmental factors whether they are physical or socio-economic.

It seems that in many cases poor health and more specifically cases of heart disease, cancer, accidents and mental health are more likely to occur to those who are less well off (DoH 1998, 1999). Poverty can have a very adverse affect on one’s health for a number of different reasons, firstly low income can mean a person is unable to afford to keep their house properly heated and also secure against fire with smoke alarms.

Secondly those in low income areas are often further away from supermarkets as they are often located in out of town areas which are to some extent difficult to get to and may require increased transport costs. In addition to this those in such areas are often only given the option to shop more locally which in many cases is more expensive and offers less choice in goods especially in fresh fruit or vegetables. Another important factor which relates to poverty and poor health is the surrounding local environment, as in many low income areas there are busy roads and problems of crime including vandalism and drug abuse.

Such problems can be a huge barrier to allowing people especially children proper recreation activities like playing in a park as it can be hazardous to get there and thus as a result many parents are more likely to stick their children in front of a television (DoH 1998). Perhaps one of the most important aspects stipulated in the government’s policy on health is the aspect of the physical environment around us. It is believed that a safe, secure and sustainable environment is a pre-requisite for a healthy nation (DoH 1998, 1999, Jones and Sidell 1997, Crombie 1995).

There are many aspects of the environment that have been outlined as having the ability to cause adverse affects to a person’s health. Air quality is possible the most talked about environmental factor and more specifically air pollution. It has been well documented that air pollution in its many different forms can have a considerable effect on someone’s health (DoH 1998, DoH and COMEAP 1997), some of the major effects on health caused by various air pollutants include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, cardio-respiratory problems and lung and other cancers.

As well as the effects of such gases there is also the increasing concern about the effects of cigarette smoke especially indoors. One of the government’s key policy aims is to reduce the number of deaths caused by cancer and strokes and in doing so requires a number of environmental factors to be looked at and monitored one of the key factors being tobacco smoke. In fact around 120,000 lives are made shorter or taken each year as a result of tobacco.

In line with the overall policy aim of reducing health disparities and increasing life expectancy especially of those living in low income conditions is the need to reduce tobacco smoking as it is evident that many in low income areas smoke more and in addition find it harder to give up as they see it as a form of stress relief and a way of coping with depression as a result of their lifestyles (DoH, COMEAP 1997, DoH 1998).

In order for there to be a reduction in the number of illnesses and deaths resulting from smoking and of air pollution as a whole a number of steps and strategy need to be introduced and will need to involve people at a number of different levels. To see the daunting task of reduced tobacco smoke related illness and deaths and more specifically the rates of heart disease and cancer government needs to keep on increasing the amount of tax it puts on cigarettes as rising prices will to some extent discourage many to start smoking and will hopefully encourage those who smoke to stop.

Furthermore more can be done to advertise and make aware the terrible health effects smoking can cause which is now beginning to happen with increased warning labelling and shock advertising campaigns. Many businesses and organisations can also enable environments to be cleaner by making them non-smoking which will dramatically reduce the number of cases of illness caused by passive smoking, which kills up to 20,000 people a year in Europe (DoH 1998).

In addition their should be more support to those wishing to give up which is also becoming more widespread with help lines and advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. One problem however is aiding those in low income areas to reduce or quit smoking as many need extra help and guidance as they are often unable to afford expensive patches or other nicotine replacement aids. In going back to look at the effects of air borne pollutants it is evident that a large proportion of the pollutants come from industry and more noticeably transport fumes (DoH, COMEAP 1997, Crombie 1995).

It is therefore apparent that those who live in built up areas especially in inner city areas are more prone to suffer from the effects of such pollutants. If the government wishes to help reduce the gap in health inequalities one of its aims must surely be to try and reduce the level of pollutant gases being emitted from vehicles and try and improve transport systems which will encourage people to use public transport. As the more concentrated traffic areas are seen to be in more developed and built up areas other significant problems also arise.

Such traffic concentrations also create a barrier as there is an increased risk of accident which is another important aspect of the government’s drive to reduce the number of accidents and improve the quality and life expectancy of many individuals. Traffic problems discourage people from getting out and about including visits to friends, the shops or just to get out and exercise and as a result can lead to people feeling isolated and excluded which can create health problems of their own.

Furthermore it is once again those on low incomes which are the ones most likely to suffer as a result as they do not have their own means of vehicle transport (Crombie 1995) or have access to nearby transport and other necessary amenities and services. When looking at environmental health policy another important aspect which needs to be considered and has been by the current government is that of housing. It is also an increasingly important aspect when looking into reducing health disparities and to reducing the levels of accidents.

Poor quality housing can have a number of adverse effects on someone’s health including the effects of damp which can cause respiratory diseases, bad heating which can cause health problems when there is cold weather especially to vunerable people like the elderly and the existence of radon gas which can cause lung cancer. It is evident that many homes throughout the U. K suffer from these problems (DoH 1998, DoH, COMEAP 1997) and once again it is those who are unemployed or are on low incomes that are likely to be victims.

A lot of investment is being put in to improve housing conditions especially in newly built houses, however in many cases houses fall below the standard which is considered adequate for example over a million houses are believed to fall below the housing fitness standard (DoH 1999). In looking and investigating features and elements of environmental health policy it is evident that it covers a wide number of factors and is incorporated in a large number of policies.

In trying to look at the features of one particular environmental health policy it is evident that the various aims and objectives relate to a number of other issues and the forefront of political debate. It seems that perhaps one of the most important aspects of current policy is to look at and try and reduce the health disparities seen between the various social classes as it is clearly evident that countries with the greatest income differences seem to have the lowest levels of life expectancy (Wilkinson 1992 in Crombie 1995).

Furthermore it seems that the countries with the greatest income differences also have the greatest disparities in health and thus those at the lower end of the scale will be the ones who suffer from the greater risks to their health. In looking at how the policies will be managed and implemented it can be said that the government has set out a number of potentially good strategies to try and deal with the problems outlined.

In order for policy aims to overcome the problems a lot needs to be done and on the whole in order for results to be seen a wide range of people need to become involved. To begin with individuals need to recognise the importance of good health and the need to live a healthy lifestyle, however some will feel they do not need to change their habits and lifestyle or on the other hand will feel they are unable to due to various restraints such as money, social environment or the actual physical environment around them.

In addition local authorities and organisations should also try and promote good health and enable people to get out and try and get involved in schemes which can help aid to reduce problems in health. Such measures could be to improve local transport links, improve walking and cycling paths, local shops providing cheaper healthier foods and more pro active measures to help people stop smoking and give people the healthy advice they need.

One the whole the major responsibility lies with the government to try and implement pro active strategies into communities which are seen to suffer the greatest from ill health and together with a whole range of organisations try and promote healthy activities and methods which can help people begin to lead a better and healthy lifestyle but like all policy aims some of the major schemes will take a while to implement and see results.

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