Almost a quarter of the 12.6 million annual deaths globally are linked to the environment – and nearly two-thirds of these are attributable to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer and diabetes, according to AIA Australia's (AIA) latest research.
The report, called “The Environment and Our Health,” summarises existing evidence and scientific literature and highlights the bidirectional connection between health and environmental factors, such as air pollution and climate change.
It found that climate change, the most crucial global threat today according to The Lancet in 2009, can impact people's health in various ways, including directly via trauma related to extreme weather events or indirectly through long-term emotional distress triggered by threats to the current and future well-being of Earth and people.
The second leading cause of global NCDs is air pollution – specifically household air pollution (17%), ambient air pollution (13%), second-hand tobacco smoke (3%), and exposure to lead (2%) – causing nearly one-third of cardiovascular diseases globally.
The report also identified agriculture and food production as a major cause of global environmental change, with diet-related NCDs driven mainly by unhealthy diets with impacts, including a shocking 80% increase in the prevalence of diabetes globally and an alarming 860% increase in the use of nitrogen fertiliser globally.
Urbanisation and the built environment also have a significant impact on physical and mental health, with well-planned cities potentially promoting health and well-being through initiatives such as green spaces, walking and cycling paths, recreational facilities, and sports infrastructure.
AIA CEO Damien Mu calls for policies and programs that consider how the environment exacerbates NCDs.
“At AIA Australia, our purpose is to make a difference in people's lives, and we're passionate about developing and supporting initiatives that focus on health prevention and promotion to reduce the prevalence of chronic illnesses,” Mu said. “We are at a critical point where we, as a society, need to take concrete steps to improve the way we interact with the environment.”
The insurance industry has become more conscious of the impacts of climate change on the country and various industries. AIA, for example, has an ESG (environmental, social, and governance) strategy that includes its goals, commitments, and actions to deliver long-term sustainable value for its customers, partners, and communities.