World Health Day 2010 is dedicated to urbanization and health. The campaign highlights the impact of urban living on human health and encourages efforts to make cities healthier places for people to live.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the world’s most urbanized region, with more than three-quarters of its 433 million people living in cities. It is also the world’s most inequitable region, with more than 190 million people living in poverty. A large percentage of these poor live in urban slums or neighborhoods blighted by problems linked to rapid, unplanned urbanization.
While most people move to cities to seek better lives, urbanization can have many negative consequences for human health and well-being. Urban growth and increased density place pressure on basic services and make it difficult for governments to meet people’s needs. Urban lifestyles take a toll on health as people become less physically active and consume more high-calorie, processed foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Living in fast-growing, poorly planned cities increases people’s vulnerability to a number of risks. These include:
- Environmental risks, such as chemical or biological pollution of the air, water, and land.
- Safety risks, including pedestrian, motor vehicle, and occupational safety.
- Social risks, such as violence, substance abuse, and other risky behaviors.
- Epidemiological risks, including both communicable and noncommunicable diseases related to inadequate sanitation, crowding, and modern urban lifestyles.
- Disaster risks, including vulnerability to earthquakes, floods, and mudslides.
The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization’s (PAHO/WHO) World Health Day 2010 campaign seeks to raise awareness of these problems and shows how addressing them can make cities healthier places to live.
Promoting healthy urban living
There are effective actions and policies in a range of critical areas that can help make cities healthier places to live. Example include:
- Human security – policies and programs that reduce violence, laws and regulations that improve road safety, planning and construction that include walking and cycling paths.
- Healthy behaviors – policies and programs that help reduce consumption or abuse of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, encourage physical activity, and help “make the healthy choice the easy choice”
- Healthy settings – initiatives by municipalities, schools, communities, markets and other workplaces that seek to improve the on-site environment and promote health among their members and associates
- Urban infrastructure – promotion of urban planning, clean public spaces, public transport, recycling, renewable energy, green spaces, water and sanitation
- Environmental, air and noise pollution – efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, chemical risks and noise
- Inclusive urbanization – policies and programs that seek to reduce inequities, prevent slums, and focus on the most vulnerable people, including homeless adults and street children
- Emergency preparedness – promoting disaster-safe infrastructure and continuity of vital services in the event of disasters or other emergencies
- Disease control and prevention – funding and policies that support public health planning and interventions and ensure affordable, accessible health care
What is PAHO/ WHO doing?
- Promoting social justice and equity in health
- Mobilizing intersectoral action for health
- Encouraging the development of health systems based on primary health care
- Gathering and disseminating evidence on the social, economic and other benefits of promoting health and prevention of health problems
- Designing assessment tools to identify problems and design appropriate responses
- Building capacity and expertise in health promotion, health determinants and local development
- Promoting the use of georeferences to address inequities, e.g., using census and other locally available data to analyze and map social determinants of health and identify vulnerable communities and populations
What can you do to promote healthy urban living?
- Be informed, get involved – represent your institution or your perspective
- Reach out to decision makers
- Build and apply knowledge
- Support and advocate healthy public policies
- Mainstream the principles and practices of health promotion
- Build networks and partnerships focused on health promotion
- Revitalize primary health care approaches
- Organize and empower communities and individuals