The state of the environment, our health, and levels of social equity are closely interrelated. The role that individual behaviours play in moving to more sustainable societies has been under-emphasised and can be a powerful entry point for change. Many measures to protect the environment also improve our health and at the same time reduce inequalities, but work is needed to fully harness and develop the combined benefits. These are some of the findings presented in the INHERIT Baseline Report launched April 19th.
Health, equity and environment
The INHERIT Baseline Report, led by RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment , investigates the links between behaviour, health, environmental and social resilience and looks at what can be done to encourage lifestyles, which protect the environment and promote health equity by focusing on the way we live, move, and consume. The report is based on a review of scientific literature and framed by the INHERIT model which is presented in the report. The report explains how our ‘take, make, consume, dispose’ models of economic growth generate pollutants and shape lifestyles that are characterised by overconsumption, a lack of physical activity, high levels of energy use and a lack of contact with green space. As a consequence, we face growing levels of chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, particularly amongst poorer groups. Those who are less affluent cannot escape the consequences of poor living quality, fuelling health inequalities.
“To create European growth, and meet international sustainability goals, behaviour change needs to be enabled and incorporated into Europe’s strategic plans. The development of healthy environments is key for a fair and sustainable future” said Caroline Costongs, EuroHealthNet Director.
Need for change
There is room for optimism, as there is an increasing realisation of the need for change. The relationship between individual and societal behaviour and public and private sectors is interconnected and amendable by policies and actions; people change behaviours when they have the motivation, capability, and opportunity to do so.
Brigit Staatsen, lead author from RIVM: “A number of policies and practices described in the INHERIT Baseline Report to e.g. increase the availability and use of green space in urban areas, promote cycling and reduce levels of meat consumption, aim to create such environments for change. The challenge is to strengthen and scale-up the most promising ‘triple-win’ initiatives - those that support the environment, good health, and equity at the same time”.
The report has been produced by a consortium of 18 organisations and experts from a range of disciplines (public health, environment, economics, technology, social sciences, psychology, communications) as part of the Horizon2020 funded INHERIT project, coordinated by EuroHealthNet. RIVM leads the work on establishing the baseline knowledge base and developing the common analytical framework and will be co-leading in the evaluation of promising practices and interventions.