Social inequalities in environment and health

Tjalling Leenstra/DCE

Socioeconomic inequalities, related to e.g. income, employment, education, as well as demographic differences, such as age or gender, are associated with unequal exposure to environmental risk factors. They contribute to health inequities and most often put disadvantaged groups at significantly higher risk for environmental health effects. In the European Union alone about 80 million people are living in relative poverty. Many of these people live in damp homes, with insufficient heating and inadequate sanitary equipment.

In the Parma Declaration (2010), European ministries of environment and health committed to act on socioeconomic and gender inequalities in environment and health as one of the key environment and health challenges of our time. Health 2020, WHO/Europe’s new health policy, also has a focus on social determinants and health equity, and aims to ensure that health and health determinants are equally distributed.

WHO/Europe’s work on environmental health inequalities provides evidence on the current status, quantifies its magnitude for selected environmental health risks (e.g. second hand smoke, housing conditions, injuries, noise, sanitation) and identifies country-specific priorities for national action.

Current WHO activities supporting the implementation of the Parma Declaration and the Health 2020 policy framework are embedded within each of the environment and health topics and include technical assistance to countries, e.g. for the development of national environmental health inequality assessments.