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Environmental conditions are a major determinant of health and well-being, but they are not the same for everyone everywhere. While environmental risk factors account for at least 15% of mortality in the WHO European Region, inequalities in environmental exposure are making vulnerable groups more likely to be part of the 1.4 million deaths per year than others. Health inequalities and environmental risk are interlinked with almost all environmental challenges, including exposure to air pollution, noise, inadequate housing, energy and water supply, climate change or lack of access to nature

EU-wide action to tackle these health inequalities is urgently needed. HEAL’s Executive Director Genon Jensen joined a special webinar organised by the WHO Regional Office for Europe on 11 December 2023 to discuss just that. She commented: “People in Europe faced with socio-economic inequalities are at greater risk of health impacts from pollution or climate change. The unhealthy alliance of socio-economic inequality and pollution exposure urgently needs more attention and tackling by EU policies.“  

She explained how HEAL works to ensure that health evidence and health voices are heard by politicians and policy makers in Europe and beyond and equity aspects are embedded in HEAL’s mission and strategic goals with a focus on those most harmed and at risk from pollution, including those facing health inequalities.

Many chronic and acute diseases, like cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes, obesity and mental illnesses, are caused or worsened by environmental pollution. According to the European Environment Agency, communities with lower levels of income and education – as well as the elderly, children and other vulnerable groups – are often more impacted by air, water and noise pollution, as well as climate change. 

WHO Europe has developed an increasing body of evidence and assessment’s on  the topic of environmental inequalities. The webinar launched two new fact sheets on air pollution and noise, as part of its environmental inequalities factsheet series. Other factsheets focus on the dampness in homes and keeping homes warm. European wide assessment reports on environmental health inequalities were published in 2012 and 2019 as well as a range of other publications and analyses.

At WHO Europe’s 7th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, held in July 2023 in Budapest, Hungary, Member States committed to address the cross-cutting challenge of environmental health inequalities, and to establish equitable environments to support health and sustainable development.

More information about the webinar here.

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