Environmental Impact on Humans

What is the environment? The most simple definition of environment is 'surroundings'. A person's environment can encompass their physical, social, and biological surroundings.

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    All organisms, including humans, need resources obtained from their environment. These can be physical resources, such as water, air, and shelter. Or they can be biological resources, such as food and mates. Unfortunately, not all interactions with the environment are positive. What is the environmental impact on human health and behaviour? We'll see the relation with our lyfestlye and some examples like radiation and disease. Keep reading to find out!

    Environmental Impact on Human Health

    Human health and wellbeing are linked to the natural environment. It's estimated that 12-18% of European deaths are related to environmental stressors.


    Pollution is a significant environmental problem that can impact human health. High levels of pollutants can lead to health issues such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and some cancers.

    Not everyone is affected equally by pollution.

    People with lower incomes are more likely to live in polluted areas and have unsafe drinking water. Children and pregnant women experience a greater risk of pollution-related health issues.

    Interactions with the Environment pollution environmental impact on health StudySmarterFig. 1 – Individuals living close to power stations are more likely to report respiratory complaints than the general population, unsplash.com.

    Climate Change

    Burning fossil fuels has led to greenhouse gas emissions, which not only cause pollution but also trap heat in the atmosphere and cause an increase in temperatures. Hotter weather has been associated with a range of health problems, such as:

    • Heat stroke

    • Chronic kidney problems

    • Premature births

    • Asthma

    Climate change may also enhance pollution and lead to new infectious diseases.

    Environmental Impact on Human Behaviour

    Our social environment can influence our behaviour. For example, you act differently during an exam than when you spend time with friends. The surrounding environment can also impact motivation. Sharing a communal space, such as a kitchen, with tidy people will encourage you to keep the area clean. However, if the other kitchen users are messy, you may find yourself less motivated to clean up after yourself.

    Chaotic environments have been proven to impact a person's mood and behaviours. Disorderly, cluttered environments have been associated with increased snacking, poor attention and focus, and more impulsive behaviour.

    Furthermore, light levels can impact a person's sleep and mood. Unnatural light exposure affects our circadian rhythms.

    The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates sleep.

    Insufficient levels of light during the daytime (either natural or artificial) can increase stress levels. On the other hand, too much light at night can negatively impact sleep and, thus, mood.

    Behaviour and Mood in the Natural Environment

    The natural environment is vital to human wellbeing. As a result, cities need to have access to green and blue spaces.

    • Green spaces are areas of vegetated land, particularly within an urban area.

    Urban green spaces include parks, cemeteries, playing fields, and green roofs.

    Access to green space has been associated with better cognitive functioning, improved impulse control, and decreased rates of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

    • Blue spaces are areas of visible water, especially within urban areas.

    Urban blue spaces include canals, ponds, rivers, and marinas.

    Many people view blue space as restorative and peaceful; it has been linked to reduced stress levels. Furthermore, the nearby blue area encourages physical activity.

    People who live near the coast are more likely to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines than those who live further inland.

    Interactions with the Environment urban blue space environment and behaviour StudySmarterFig. 2 – Urban blue space in Amsterdam, unsplash.com.

    Environmental Impact on Humans: Lifestyle & Health

    Interactions with the environment looks at the macro-effects and micro-effects of the interactions between organisms and their environment by introducing the effects of lifestyle on the delicate balance within the human body.

    Check out our article on Health and Lifestyle to learn more!

    The relationship between health and disease has always gone hand in hand. However, with current knowledge, it is believed that health is more than just the absence of illness or a balance of both physical and mental wellbeing. Many factors and lifestyle choices can influence health.

    Disease is a disorder of the body, organs, tissues or cells that affects the health of an individual.

    Disease can be split into two main categories, communicable diseases are infectious, while non-communicable diseases are not.

    Did you know that non-communicable diseases kill 41 million people every year?

    Recognising how lifestyle choices can affect the risk of developing a non-communicable disease, with the main risk factors including:

    • Smoking

    • Excessive use of alcohol

    • Lack of exercise

    • Unhealthy diet

    Cardiovascular disease is a significant non-communicable disease, responsible for one-third of deaths globally. Some of the symptoms of this broad disease include heart palpitations, fatigue, and chest pain. Understanding the signs and methods of treatment, such as medication, and lifestyle changes, including limiting the risk factors mentioned above, are necessary to know how to prevent and treat this condition.

    Homeostasis is a process carried out by the human body. It is involved in the regulation of internal conditions in response to internal and external changes. Some lifestyle or genetic mutations can lead to diabetes, another non-communicable disease that affects insulin homeostasis. Diabetes has two types, which manifest in the body differently. Prevention and treatment of diabetes are about knowing when to use insulin injections or implementing lifestyle changes.

    Looking at the female human reproductive hormones, such as progesterone, oestrogen, and LH (luteinising hormone), has helped scientists and healthcare professionals understand how to utilise these hormones in contraception or even treating infertility.

    When we understand how specific processes in the body work and how lifestyle factors can significantly contribute to disease manifestation, it helps to prevent, treat and even cure (in some cases).

    Environmental Impact on Humans: Radiation

    Exposure to radiation from our surroundings, particularly ionising radiation, can damage living cells and eventually lead to the development of malignant tumours. Understanding this exposure risk (which can often be over or under-estimated) is one way humans can protect themselves.

    To check out more on this topic, check out our article on radiation.

    Ionising radiation is a type of energy that works through the removal of electrons from atoms or molecules such as living tissue, water and even air.

    The electromagnetic spectrum is the distribution of varying frequencies and wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. The spectrum is organised in sections, from highest to lowest energy: gamma, X-rays, UV (ultraviolet), visible light, infrared and radio waves. When a photon of light hits an electron and absorbs enough energy, it can jump to the next energy state. If the electron becomes unstable, it can cause the atom's nucleus to become radioactive!

    Think of the electron being 'hit' by a fast-moving photon and is now moving rapidly.

    Radioactive decay is a process that takes place in unstable nuclei. There are four types of radioactive decay, each with different penetration properties. With gamma rays being the most penetrating! Understanding the various penetration properties can help protect against harmful ionising radiation.

    High levels of gamma radiation can only be stopped by a thick layer of lead or several metres of concrete.

    The radioactive decay rate depends on an isotope's half-life.

    Isotopes are one of two or more species of an element with the same number of protons but varying numbers of neutrons.

    Half-life is the average time taken for the nuclei of the isotope in a sample to halve or the average time of the count rate to halve.

    Exposure to harmful X-rays and gamma rays can damage the body and lead to cancer. Reducing the risk of exposure to these Ionising Radiations can help to prevent its associated hazards and health risks.

    Environmental Impact on Humans: Disease

    Disease can manifest in the body in several ways. Still, the human body is actually quite smart and has many processes and defences that can help to protect it from pathogens. Diseases which are caused by pathogens are known as communicable diseases.

    Want to learn more about this topic? Check out our article on preventing, treating and curing diseases.

    Learning about the causes and spread of infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STD) and HIV, is essential to minimise transmission. The human body has multiple methods of defending itself against pathogens, from limiting entry via physical barriers to specially adapted white blood cells in the immune system. Sometimes, however, our bodies need an extra boost as these defences can be breached. This is where the development of medications, such as antibiotics, comes in handy. Antibiotics are valuable drugs for the treatment of bacterial infections.

    However, their overuse has recently led to the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance. Continued development of different types of drugs must be continued.

    Vaccinations are crucial, too. They help to protect the population from many diseases such as influenza and even COVID! Vaccines work by triggering the immune response to recognise and fight disease-causing organisms.

    New technologies are continually researched in the scientific community. Currently (still in its early stages), Genetic Modification and stem cells are the hot topics! There is potential that these can be harnessed to provide effective treatment for non-communicable diseases, but they do come with their own risks. And they certainly raise many ethical concerns!

    Environmental Impact on Humans - Key takeaways

    • Our environment compasses our physical, social, and biological surroundings.

    • Human health and wellbeing are related to our natural environment. Pollution causes health problems such as respiratory diseases and cancer. However, pollution doesn't affect everyone equally. Climate change can cause heat-related illnesses, enhance pollution, and may lead to new infectious diseases.

    • The social environment can impact our behaviour, motivation, and impulsivity. Light levels can influence circadian rhythms, leading to mood and sleep problems.

    • Access to blue and green space in urban areas has been associated with improved wellbeing and increased physical activity.

    • Lifestyle choices that reduce exposure to environmental ionising radiation and support the human body's natural defences are all ways that can help reduce the risk of disease manifestations.

    1. British Heart Foundation, Global Heart & Circulatory Diseases Factsheet, 2022

    2. European Environment Agency, Environment and health, 2022

    3. Newport Institute, How Does Your Physical Environment Affect You and Your Mental Health?, Mental Health, 2021

    4. World Health Organization, Noncommunicable diseases, 2022

    Frequently Asked Questions about Environmental Impact on Humans

    What is an example of an interaction with the environment?

    Examples of interactions with the environment could include lifestyle factors, exposure to radiation, and exposure to pathogens.

    How do humans interact with the environment?

    Humans, like all organisms, interact with the environment to obtain resources.

    Why is it important to understand our interactions with the environment?

    It is important to understand our interactions with the environment because it could lead to disease. Alternatively, human activities can damage the natural environment.

    How can lifestyle affect health?

    Lifestyle can affect health through choices such as smoking, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and excessive use of alcohol can increase the risk of developing a non-communicable disease.

    What is radiation, and why is it harmful?

    Ionising radiation is a type of energy that works through the removal of electrons from atoms or molecules such as living tissue, water and even air. Radiation is harmful because it can penetrate living organisms, damaging cells and causing cancer.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    People with low incomes are more likely to be affected by pollution.

    Which health problems are associated with warmer weather?

    Social environment does not impact motivation.


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