There are a number of factors that impact the state of our health, from the food we eat, to our daily routines and habits, to our access to affordable healthcare. Little is thought of environmental factors that may have a direct impact on our health.
It’s something worth considering, however. Research has found that there are a number of links between the environmental factors that exist where you live and your overall health.
From houses, workplaces, and recreational venues to nations, states, and towns, here are some of the ways that your location can play a major role in your health for better or for worse.
Some Location-Specific Health Factors
There are many different aspects of where someone lives that can influence their health. Housing (which, depending on its age, can often be plagued by things like mold, asbestos, or lead paint), air quality, water quality, access to healthy foods, and even a good education or employment can all be factors. Let’s start at the top by looking at the location issue from a national scale.
Not All Countries Are the Same
While the United States is one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, being an American hardly equates to having the best health. On the contrary, studies have shown that while U.S. citizens tend to spend twice as much on their healthcare as other nations that are similarly wealthy, they struggle with some of the lowest life expectancy rates of them all. This includes some of the highest infant mortality rates, with tens of thousands of infants dying every year before they reach the age of one.
To put it another way, France’s healthcare system is ranked 15th in the world compared to the U.S., which falls twenty spots lower on the list. The point is not whether the U.S. has the best healthcare or not, but more importantly that you cannot simply assume that other factors like superior economics or power translate directly to health.
The Urban Scene
Even within the context of a specific nation, the place that an individual resides can make a huge difference in their health. For example, there are many ways that cities dwellers can have healthier lifestyles. The walkability and the presence of bike paths can increase their daily exercise. Healthcare also tends to be of a higher caliber in urban locations, as cities are often the hub for larger medical operations, attracting better medical workers with higher pay and providing access to cutting edge medical practices and research.
However, just as with countries, not all urban centers are the same. Sprawling cities can decrease the likelihood of walking and biking, while poorer cities can lead to a much lower quality of overall health. Even within more affluent cities, the divide between rich and poor neighborhoods can have a dramatic effect on the average health of the individuals that live within them, with wealthier neighborhoods naturally benefiting from a healthier lifestyle that is out of the reach of those occupying poorer districts.
When it comes to rural areas, economic woes often play a critical part in the battle for good health. The fact that Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia all vie for the worst health in the U.S. while simultaneously having some of the worst economies within the nation is hardly a coincidence.
The residents of these largely rural states often lack proper access to vital healthcare tools like fresh food and clean air. And the struggle goes beyond the physical, as well. Mental health issues have proven to be a struggle just as dire as everything else, with the issue not stemming from a lack of funds as much as a straight up lack of accessibility to a solution that can properly see to the problem.
The stark truth is, if you live in the country, you may simply live too far from a licensed medical professional to properly address your needs. And this is just as true for minor issues as it is for major ones. Take, for example, the extremely treatable Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as GERD. While the symptoms of GERD can be controlled by simple steps like a careful diet and smaller meals, lack of access to a medical practitioner who could provide this basic information can leave the condition untreated, eventually leading to much more serious symptoms such as esophageal cancer.
Finally, the lack of rural access to cutting-edge, quality education can seriously hamper the ability for country dwellers to address health concerns. This is especially true for children, who often lack the education and knowledge necessary to properly take care of themselves through recognizing and addressing genuine needs as well as proper preventative care.
How to Address the Problem
There are many different ways that the geographic disparity in healthcare can be addressed. Modern technology has provided cutting edge forms of communication such as telemedicine, which allows doctors and other medical professionals to reach their patients in spite of long distances. Improving the economic status and providing quality education in struggling areas, both rural and urban, can also help empower many to seek out a healthier lifestyle.
One of the best ways to bring about these kinds of changes is through purposeful initiatives and reforms aimed at creating results. They don’t always have to be far-reaching, either. Even small efforts can yield results that slowly move societies towards better health. An excellent example of this is Sacramento, California’s Building Healthy Communities program, which worked with local citizens in order to create community gardens and bike paths. While this may sound humble in its scope, the effort allowed previously contaminated land to be transformed into usable property for the community.