Most important causes of death worldwide (Source: The Lancelet, le Monde)
This is the 10th episode of a series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities. In this post, I mainly focus on health problems which are directly related to the quality of the living environment
Are cities healthy places?
According to the WHO's Global Burden of Diseases Study, 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year are caused by particulate matter. The regional differences are significant. Urban health depends on the part of the world and the part of the city where you are living. More than 26 million people in the United States have asthma and breathing problems as a result. African-American residents in the US die of asthma three times as often as whites. They live in segregated communities with poor housing, close to heavy industry, transportation centers and other sources of air pollution.
Globally, the increasing prosperity of city dwellers is causing more and more lifestyle-related health problems. Heart disease, and violence (often drug-related) has overtaken infectious diseases as the first cause of death in wealthy parts of the world.
Very recently, Arcadis published a report on 'the healthy city'. This report compares 20 Dutch cities based on many criteria, divided over five domains. The four major cities score negatively on many aspects. In particular: healthy outdoor space, greenery, air quality, noise nuisance, heat stress and safety. Medium-sized cities such as Groningen, Emmen, Almere, Amersfoort, Nijmegen, and Apeldoorn, on the other hand, are among the healthiest cities.
In Amsterdam, the level of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2018 exceeded World Health Organization standards in many streets. The GGD of Amsterdam estimates that 4.5% of the loss of healthy years is the result of exposure to dirty air.
Collaborative measuring air quality
In various cities, groups of concerned citizens have started measuring the quality of the air themselves. A professional example is the AiREAS project in Eindhoven. An innovative measuring system has been developed together with knowledge institutions and the government. Sensors are distributed over the area of the city and the system provides real-time information. The AiREAS group regularly discusses the results with other citizens and with the city government. The measurement of the quality of the air is supplemented by medical examination. This research has confirmed that citizens in the vicinity of the main roads and the airport have an increased risk of mortality, reduced lung function and asthma.
The AiREAS project is linked to similar initiatives in other European cities. Occasionally the data is exchanged. That resulted in, among other things, this shocking video.
Could the future not be that we are busy doing the obvious things for our health, such as walking, cycling, eating good food and having fun and that thanks to wearables, symptoms of diseases are watched early and permanently in the background, without us being aware of it? The local health center will monitor and analyze the data of all patients using artificial intelligence and advise to consult the doctor if necessary. An easily accessible health center in one's own neighborhood remains indispensable.
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