Rising temperatures, air pollution, urbanization, and dietary changes affect our overall well-being
New Zealanders are being urged to take care of the planet as a way to take care of themselves. A new report by AIA NZ, The Environment and our Healthhighlights the connection between the environment and our health outcomes.
The report explores how environmental factors, such as climate change, air pollution, food production, and urbanization, are contributing to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) responsible for more than 90% of deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The report also identifies our interactions with the environment as one of the five lifestyle factors contributing to NCDs.
The other four are tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diet. However, the report suggests that lifestyle habits can also be the best defense against disease.
By making sustainable choices, we can positively impact our health and the health of the planet, the report said.
One example of this is the rising cost of skin cancer treatment, expected to reach $295 million by 2025. By protecting our skin from harmful UV rays, we can reduce the risk of skin cancer and save on healthcare costs. Another example is the more than a quarter of a million New Zealand children living in moldy or damp homes, which can cause respiratory problems. Improving the quality of housing can, in turn, improve health outcomes.
Len Elikhis, AIA NZ Chief Product and Investments Officer, highlighted the far-reaching and concerning connection between the environment and New Zealanders’ health.
“We often think about climate change as a global challenge, but our day-to-day interaction with our environment can have a significant impact on our health too – the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, and the amount of time we spend in nature,” Elikhis said.
He noted that while climate change is often viewed as a global issue, our day-to-day interaction with the environment can significantly impact our health.
Elikhis also stressed the importance of taking both individual and collective action to address these issues.
“Outlining this interconnectedness between the environment and our health outcomes, and how we can take steps to correct the issue, is what AIA’s Environment and our Health report aims to do,” he said.
Environmental factors affecting our health
The report discusses how four environmental components — climate change, air pollution, agriculture and food production, urbanization, and the built environment — have a significant impact on human health.
Climate change is a major threat to global health, causing severe weather events that can trigger mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and economic costs that may further disadvantage financially vulnerable populations.
Air pollution, which can be caused naturally or by human activity like fossil fuel use, is the second-biggest contributor to non-communicable diseases after smoking.
Agriculture and food production are responsible for climate change, biodiversity loss, freshwater use, and land-system change, with the most common environmental issues relating to food processing, waste management, and transportation.
Urbanization affects physical and mental health, with sedentary behavior through office work and private commuting reducing fitness and causing negative impacts on mental well-being.
However, increased access to green and blue spaces and public transportation can have positive effects.
The silver lining
AIA NZ is taking its social responsibility seriously by moving away from just paying claims to help Kiwis live healthier and longer lives.
According to Elikhis, by encouraging healthy behaviors, AIA NZ’s preventive healthcare focus can decrease the risk of developing NCDs later in life. And with its health and wellbeing program, AIA Vitality, members are nudged towards small lifestyle changes that can create cumulative change and have a positive impact.
Plus, through discounted partner offers and rewards, AIA Vitality can help reduce the costs associated with living a healthy lifestyle. AIA NZ also boasts a comprehensive environmental, social, and governance strategy to reduce its own environmental impact business-wide.
What NZ experiences
The environment is affecting our everyday lifestyles, according to consumer research conducted by AIA New Zealand.
Respondents showed a willingness to make small, healthy lifestyle changes that would benefit their health and the planet.
Skin cancer is a particular concern, with one in three respondents admitting to getting sunburn at least once a year.
Air pollution is also problematic, with nearly a quarter of a million New Zealand children living in damp homes.
Plus, over a quarter of New Zealanders get takeaways at least once per week, and almost 6% consider less than 20% of their meals to be healthy.
AIA believes that creating a healthier country and health system requires expanding government policies and lowering barriers to healthy living.
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