Key Area(s): Equitable access to care and information, healthy environments, political determinants of health, physical health, mental health
As the phrase goes, “You are what you eat.” We could easily add: what home you live in; what job you work; what school your or your neighbors’ kids go to; what transportation you take; what water you drink; or what air you breathe. All of these things affect our health—and our health affects our ability to do many things.
Our houses may have moldy, wet basements or roofs that leak. They may have lead paint or dust that kids might eat and industrial heavy metals in the soils outside, where the kids might play. The pipes might be lead. Air outside, polluted by industry and exhaust, may make its way inside into our homes and our bodies, making it difficult to breathe.
The number and types of jobs we manage, how much we’re paid, and how valued we feel at our workplaces affect our physical and mental health, which in turn affects our ability to manage our work stress, perform well at work, and enjoy ourselves and our families outside of work.
Whether our diets are made up of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains or sugars, fats, and processed foods—whether by choice or by necessity, our health is impacted. Not being able to afford food impacts health as well.
Like our homes, many schools present health risks as well, in the form of lead pipes, unhealthy air, idling diesel-fueled school buses, asbestos and other things. Schools may wonderfully support students in their mental and physical growth and development, but they can also be places of bullying and racially inequitable practices, such as suspensions, that may compound stress and trauma that children already face.
How we get around town also affects our health. A region that is less dependent on and less built for cars and more built for reliable, well-connected public transit; bikes; pedestrians; and green spaces (instead of concrete and asphalt) could improve the sense of community, encourage more physical mobility, and cool our streets.
Unless we act to improve our air, water, and soil quality (and address how environmental impacts are unevenly and inequitably distributed), our health—individually and collectively—will continue to suffer. Limiting climate change is necessary in order to prevent heat stress and reduce the spread of insect-borne diseases.