As the G7 economies continue their recovery from the Great Recession, the stress on their environmental resources is likely to grow, unless appropriate policy measures are taken. Air pollution, an important source of environmental stress, affects health outcomes directly, for example as a risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, or indirectly, such as through the impacts on climate change and higher probability of extreme weather events. Many sources contribute to environmental pollution, including the over consumption of food, unhealthy diets and food waste, unsustainable city growth, as well as over reliance on private motorised vehicles as a means of transportation. Each of these factors can also have a direct negative effect on various dimensions of health. Indeed, as was emphasised in the recent declaration of the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health that was held in Ostrava, Czech Republic, there are complex links between development, population health and the environment, and helping promote a healthier environment can also bring a number of population health-related benefits.
This document, produced to inform the 2017 meeting of the G7 Ministers of Health, provides a broad overview of the main policy issues and some of the policy actions that G7 Health authorities can put in place to improve population health, while at the same time decreasing the human footprint on the environment. In particular, this document discusses three areas in which health systems can provide a substantial contribution, namely: i) promoting a healthier diet for a greener environment; ii) contributing to the development of sustainable cities; and iii) supporting active travel policies. This list is in no way exhaustive; these policies were selected on the basis of the link between the most prevalent environmental hazards and health, as well as based on the potential role that health systems can play in addressing these hazards. More broadly, health care systems could also upscale their efforts to promote a Health in all Policies approach and make the case for including health considerations in policy-making across different sectors that influence health (WHO, 2014).
• Support the development and implementation of nutritional guidelines promoting healthier food consumption – as this can lead to less stress on the environmental resources used in food production – as well as reduce the environmental footprint in hospitals and in nursing homes by encouraging healthier food consumption, waste reduction and cleaner energy generation;
• Create partnerships with various national and local stakeholders, including local city authorities and ministries of industry, environment, transport, and agriculture, in order to incorporate health and environmental considerations into urban planning schemes;
• Implement public health actions encouraging more physical activity and greater reliance on active modes of transportation, such as through physical activity-promoting mass media campaigns, bike sharing schemes and creating low-emission zones.