Skip to content



Today, over half of the world’s population lives in cities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the percentage is even higher: more than three out of four people live in urban areas, making our Region the most urbanized region in the world. Between 1970 and 2010 urban population in the Region increased 187% while rural population increased 96% - 80% or approximately 477 million live in cities.  For 2050, it is estimated that 683 million will be living in cities. "Urbanization and Health", impact of urban living on human health and the actions to take to make our cities better places to live.


Why is it important to focus on cities and urban health?

Director’s Message, World Health Day 2010.
[ Washington, D.C. 7 April 2010.

Today, over half of the world’s population lives in cities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the percentage is even higher: more than three out of four people live in urban areas, making our Region the most urbanized region in the world. Between 1970 and 2010 urban population in the Region increased 187% while rural population increased 96% - 80% or approximately 477 million live in cities.  For 2050, it is estimated that 683 million will be living in cities.

Most people move to cities to improve their lives. Yet urbanization - especially when it is rapid and unplanned - can have negative effects on human health and well-being.

Rapid population growth puts pressure on basic services and makes it difficult for governments to meet people’s needs.

Urban slums and shantytowns increase people’s exposure to environmental, social and security risks.

Increased traffic creates hazards for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians alike, 150,000 deaths and 5 million injured was the result of traffic accidents in 2007.  Modern urban living makes people more susceptible to chronic illnesses like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as they become more sedentary and consume higher-calorie, processed foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables.

As it is so often true, all these problems have a greater impact on the poor, who are at higher risk for everything from violence and injuries, to communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

On the other hand, cities are also places of opportunity, rich in human, cultural, social, economic, and institutional resources. The best way to solve urban problems and make urban areas healthier is through initiatives that mobilize these resources in a strategic way.

This brings us to the theme of this year’s World Health Day, "Urbanization and Health". The campaign not only calls attention to the impact of urban living on human health, but it also urges people to take action to make their cities better places to live.

What are some of the things that can be done to make cities healthier?

First, public policies can go a long way to improving the urban environment. Good urban planning, for example, includes provisions for clean public spaces, basic water and sanitation services, efficient public transportation and traffic management, as well as safe walking and cycling paths, and places for people to gather.

Municipal laws and policies can also help reduce violence and promote healthier lifestyles by reducing the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, encouraging more physical activity, and helping to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

It is also critically important to reduce inequities and increase inclusiveness in our cities, by addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, including shantytown dwellers, the elderly, people with disabilities, street children and homeless adults.

One of the best examples is the “healthy settings” approach, whereby municipalities, communities, schools, and workplaces take action to improve their on-site environment and promote health among their residents or members.

Also important are policies that reduce environmental risks such as air and noise pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions and chemical hazardous.

In recent months, we have also seen - in the most tragic human terms in Haiti and Chile - the vital importance of planning and construction that ensures that urban buildings and infrastructure are safe in case of an earthquake or other disaster, and how important is the urban infrastructure and planning for life and well-being.

What is our challenge?

Today - on World Health Day - we at the Pan American Health Organization are calling on everyone - individuals, policymakers and civil society organizations - to join together and get involved, supporting policies and actions that promote and protect the health of people in cities.

Clearly, making cities healthier depends on many actors, not just those of us in the health sector.

Only by working together - all sectors of society - we can make sure that our cities become safer and healthier places for people to live.

So, I ask you today: Join with me in the global movement to make cities healthier.



Event at PAHO's Headquarter at Washington, DC. 

For more information, contact Diaz, Katia (WDC), Pan American Health Organization, Office of the Director (WDC) 

Last Updated on Friday, 09 April 2010 06:52

Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization
525 Twenty-third Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, United States of America
Tel.: +1 (202) 974-3000 Fax: +1 (202) 974-3663

© Pan American Health Organization. All rights reserved.