Our Health and the Environment

Our health is intrinsically linked with the environment. Where we live, study, work, and play directly influences our health and risk of developing a disease or disorder. The environment is more than the physical characteristics that surround us – like air pollution, industrial plants, or tobacco smoke – it also includes social, cultural, and economic characteristics. The purpose of this Atlas is to illustrate the myriad of ways the environment affects our health.

"Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Why a Canadian Environmental Health Atlas?

There are vast amounts of data available that capture characteristics of both the social and physical environments that are important for understanding human health, but they are under- used and often inaccessible to most Canadians. What is the spatial distribution of environmental hazards in Canadian cities, towns, and rural areas? How do patterns of these hazards relate to health and disease? Where are vulnerable groups located in relation to these hazards? How do environmental hazards and health change over time? The Canadian Environmental Health Atlas is an attempt to integrate this information into a comprehensive and accessible format to help people understand how our health is intrinsically linked with the environment.

The Spatial Distribution of Health Hazards

The patterns of death and disease in Canada has less to do with advances in clinical medicine, biotechnology, or pharmaceuticals than with our social and physical environment. Over the past 50 years, we have relied on medicine for our concerns about health and disease, investing tremendous resources in biotechnology and drugs. Access to health care services is a key determinant of health and the provision of health care services is essential, but the greatest burden of premature death, disease and disability is largely due to the conditions in which we live. Sixty percent of premature deaths are attributable to behavioural patterns, social circumstances and environmental exposures; only 10% are attributed to medical care.


Exploring Today's Health Concerns