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Urbanization
and lifestyle changes

A global 21st century trend

Urbanization is the term used to describe the demographic trend in which the world's population is becoming increasingly concentrated in urban communities. Its results include significant changes to the environment and lifestyles.

Today, more than half the world's population lives in cities, a number expected to rise to more than 70% by 20501. The speed of urbanization often leaves little room for planned management of urban spaces and the wider environment, with the result that one urban dweller in every three - around 1 billion people1 - lives in slums.

Urbanization and health

The urban environment and its associated lifestyle come with risk factors that threaten the health of individuals.

Urban air pollution was responsible for the premature deaths of around 3.7 million people worldwide in 20123. The fine particulates emitted by motor vehicles, industry and domestic fuel combustion are responsible for a range of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular conditions and cancers.

Every year, at least 2.8 million people around the world die as a result of overweight or obesity

Urban life encourages the consumption of food with few nutritional benefits. The composition of human diets has changed as a result of globalization and urbanization, as ready-to-eat, manufactured food products containing high levels of salt, sugar and fat have replaced non-processed natural produce. The rising levels of obesity and associated health problems seen in many countries are the direct consequence of this change.

Every year, at least 2.8 million people around the world die as a result of overweight or obesity4.

Urban living encourages sedentary lifestyles. Overpopulation, road traffic density, excessive use of motorized transportation, poor air quality and too few public spaces make physical activity more difficult in cities. At the global level, absence of physical exercise and sedentary lifestyles are the 4th-largest risk factor for mortality5.

Overpopulation, road traffic density, excessive use of motorized transportation, poor air quality and too few public spaces make physical activity more difficult in cities.

Urbanization: a factor in the rise of chronic diseases3

The combined effects of urbanization (air pollution, sedentary lifestyles and poor diet) contribute to the expanding worldwide epidemic of chronic diseases6:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma and heart disease3: the level of atmospheric pollution is impacting the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population
  • Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes7: lack of physical activity and high-energy diets are causal factors for the global obesity epidemic, the incidence of cardiovascular disease and the constantly rising rate of type 2 diabetes worldwide
  • Cancer: the cancer-inducing potential of fine particulate air pollution has been proven and associated with an increased incidence of lung cancer. But sedentary lifestyles and diet also play a role in encouraging certain types of cancer, including esophageal, colorectal, breast, endometrial and kidney cancers

Preventing the consequences of urbanization: a global concern

As part of improving health worldwide, authorities and institutions are now considering the introduction of programs tailored to local lifestyles with the aim of:

  • Increasing physical activity
  • Encouraging healthy eating
  • Incentivizing urban dwellers to adopt transportation and heating methods that protect air quality

Supporting those who fall victim to urbanization's harmful effects

Concerned by the consequences of rapid urbanization, Air Liquide Healthcare works alongside vulnerable urban and other populations worldwide.

Our teams support patients at every stage in their treatment plan, from hospital to home. Their commitment is focused on helping to improve patient quality of life by helping individuals to understand their disease more fully, and encouraging them to change their behavior in ways that accommodate the urban environment and the constraints it imposes.

References:

  1. WHO. Urbanization and health. Bulletin of the WHO; 88:241-320 (2010). Available at: www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/4/10-010410/en/, viewed 12/03/2014.
  2. European Environment Agency. Changing disease burdens and risks of pandemics. In: Assessment of global megatrends – an update. Coppenhagen 2014.
  3. WHO. Media centre. Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. Fact sheet 313. March 2014. Available at: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/, viewed 12/5/2014.
  4. WHO. 10 facts on obesity. May 2014 Available at: www.who.int/features/factfiles/obesity/en/, viewed 12/5/2014.
  5. WHO. 10 facts on physical activity. February 2014 Available at: www.who.int/features/factfiles/physical_activity/en/, viewed 12/5/2014.
  6. WHO. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. WHO/FAO expert consultation report. WHO Technical Report Series, 916 Available at: www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/summary/en/, viewed 12/5/2014.
  7. WHO. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. WHO/FAO expert consultation report. WHO Technical Report Series, 916 Available at: www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/summary/en/; viewed 5/12/2014.