Physical and environmental determinants

Fleming, Mary-Lou & Tenkate, Thomas D. (2009) Physical and environmental determinants. In Fleming, Mary-Lou & Parker, Elizabeth (Eds.) Introduction to Public Health. Elsevier Australia, Sydney, pp. 93-118.

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This chapter describes physical and environmental determinants of the health of Australians, providing a background to the development of successful public health activity. Health determinants are the biomedical, genetic, behavioural, socio-economic and environmental factors that impact on health and wellbeing. These determinants can be influenced by interventions and by resources and systems (AIHW 2006). Many factors combine to affect the health of individuals and communities. People’s circumstances and the environment determine whether the population is healthy or not. Factors such as where people live, the state of their environment, genetics, their education level and income, and their relationships with friends and family, all are likely to impact on their health. The determinants of population health reflect the context of people’s lives; however, people are very unlikely to be able to control many of these determinants (WHO 2007).

This chapter and Chapter 6 illustrate how various determinants can relate to, and influence other determinants, as well as health and wellbeing. We believe it is particularly important to provide an understanding of determinants and their relationship to health and illness in order to provide a structure in which a broader conceptualisation of health can be placed. Determinants of health do not exist in isolation from one another. More frequently they work together in a complex system. What is clear to anyone who works in public health is that many factors impact on the health and wellbeing of people. For example, in the next chapter we discuss factors such as living and working conditions, social support, ethnicity and class, income, housing, work stress and the impact of education on the length and quality of people’s lives.

In 1974, the influential ‘Lalonde Report’ (Lalonde 1974) described key factors that impact on health status. These factors included lifestyle, environment, human biology and health services. Taking a population health approach builds on the Lalonde Report, and recognises that a range of factors, such as living and working conditions and the distribution of wealth in society, interact to determine the health status of a population.

Tackling health determinants has great potential to reduce the burden of disease and promote the health of the general population. In summary, we understand very clearly now that health is determined by the complex interactions between individual characteristics, social and economic factors and physical environments; the entire range of factors that impact on health must be addressed if we are to make significant gains in population health, and focussing interventions on the health of the population or significant sub-populations can achieve important health gains.

In 2007, the Australian Government included in the list of National Health Priority Areas the following health issues: cancer control, injury prevention and control, cardiovascular health, diabetes mellitus, mental health, asthma, and arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. The National Health Priority Areas set the agenda for the Commonwealth, States and Territories, Local Governments and not-for-profit organisations to place attention on those areas considered to be the major foci for action. Many of these health issues are discussed in this chapter and the following chapter.

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ID Code: 32921
Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Determinants of Health, Public Health
ISBN: 9780729538909
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (111705)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified (111799)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Elsevier
Deposited On: 24 Jun 2010 22:58
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2016 14:40

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