Environmental Influences on Health, Exercise and Fitness.
by Gavin Curry
People are complex beings who live complex lives. We do not
live in isolation from our surroundings, and even the most
shy or introverted among us must interact with our environment
and society. An individual’s health is affected through
numerous different aspects of life. Throughout this report
we will identify some of the many aspects of an individuals
environment which affects their health.
The environment may be considered in two aspects; the physical
and the social.
Physical Factors Influencing Health and Fitness
of the physical factors will include references to the individuals
sanitation services and whether or not the waste disposal or sewage
systems are adequate enough. Other factors include the effect of
a clean water supply and the possibilities of adding certain chemicals
to the water for the promotion of well-being.
Further physical factors
include climate and the geographical location you happen to live
in within the world, for example the potential risks associated
with a sunny environment, such as skin cancer, must be taken into
Social Factors Influencing Health and Fitness
An individual’s social environment also affects their health
in many different ways. Factors here include the way in which an
individuals working environment presents many potential dangers
with almost any form of employment. This can range from repetitive
strain injury in the office place, to stress related illness in
the customer care industries, and ranging to labouring jobs such
as coal miners being at high risk of breathing problems.
Another point to consider is the aspect of a person’s socio-cultural
environment on their health. These factors include ethnic differences
such as dieting differences between traditional eastern foods and
An individual’s direct social interactions can also play a
major part. This can include family relationships, friends, and
peers in the school or work place. These relationships can produce
negative peer pressure and potential bullying.
Financial Factors Influencing Health and Fitness
A final set of factors influencing health and fitness are financial
factors, which can have an indirect but important affect on health.
Whether or not an individual comes from a middle class background
will often determine whether they will live in a safer housing area,
eat more nutritionally balanced food and be able to afford more
essential items such as central heating or air conditioning.
Combined Role of Environmental Health Factors
In exploring the effect of this wide range of environmental factors
on health, we must also consider how the factors are intertwined
as there is often a relation between these factors.
We will start by looking at the individuals working environment
as it can have a massive effect on their health, There is a vast
range of employment opportunities in society today, and associated
with this is a vast difference in occurrence of factors which can
In Britain in 1995 it is estimated that 2 million people suffered
from work related illness with around 20 million working days being
lost to ill health (DoH, 1999). These factors also have many social
implications as the amount and severity of illness was not equally
spread among the social transect. It is the people that are in the
“economically disadvantaged groups, who face an increased
general burden of disease, are more likely than other groups to
work in hazardous employment with poor working condition”
(Naidoo and Wills 2001). We can therefore see that the amount of
illness is unequally spread among the social classes, with working
class communities being more often affected by illness associated
with their place of work.
Jobs in the manual labour sectors present an obvious example of
the dangers in the work place. The risks of industrial deafness
and other physical injury are increasing. Employers having the mandatory
responsibility of providing noise protection for levels over 85
decibels (DoH Website). However, employees also face factors such
as back problems from lifting, lung and eye problems from dust and
potential fumes from working in an industrial area.
The factory floor or heavy industrial site is not the only employment
location where the environment has a detrimental effect on employee
health. There are also various risks that accompany office jobs
that are currently being addressed, especially as employees are
now more inclined to sue employers, and are much more knowledgeable
about their legal rights. Illnesses such as Repetitive Strain Injury,
eye problems due to length of time looking at a computer screen
or poor office lighting, and back problems caused by sitting for
long periods of time would just be a few to name. These factors
are being addressed by companies who are providing preventative
measures such as arm rests for keyboards, anti-glare computer screens
and orthopaedic chairs and foot rests designed to promote a better
Obesity and Exercise, Fitness and Health
The sedentary lifestyle of office workers also promotes the potential
risk of obesity. With workers not moving from their seats much,
they will not be using as much energy, which will in turn create
a surplus of energy eventually turning to fat. Some employers are
trying to promote good lifestyles and exercise for their employees
by providing changing and showering facilities at work, exercise
classes at lunch times, and the services of personal trainers to
provide support and education. Their belief is that any money invested
in providing these services will be recouped in better quality of
work and fewer days lost to illness.
Obesity as well as many other illnesses and diseases can also be
affected by the location of where an individual lives. On the global
scale, people living in countries with a traditionally Mediterranean
diet have a lower risk of heart attacks and colon problems because
their diet is so rich in fruit and pasta. This can be contrasted
when compared with countries such as the United Kingdom having one
of the highest rates of heart disease in the world (DoH website).
A further complication associated with obesity is Type 2 diabetes,
often occurring in older overweight people. “Type 2 diabetes
is one of the most common chronic diseases with the number of people
suffering from it increasing worldwide. Factors such as aging population
and rising obesity are contributing to its increase” (Northern
Ireland Medical Review 2007). In the UK, Type 2 diabetes affects
many overweight people and is the number of sufferers is growing
annually, largely due to a diet, which is rich in fat and sugar,
and to a general lack of exercise.
Climate and Health, Fitness and Exercise
Climate can also have a huge impact on an individual’s health.
A prime example of this would be Australia having such a high rate
of skin cancer because of the harmful effects of the sun. Colder
climates and areas without a lot of sunlight also carry health risks
such as frostbite and pneumonia in addition to vitamin D deficiencies.
Different countries have their own set of health problems due to
Social Class and Health, Exercise and Fitness
On a local scale the area in which an individual lives can be largely
dependant on their earning capacity with lower class people or low
earners generally living in urbanised areas in less spacious conditions,
closer to areas such as waste sites or areas with pollution problems.
In these areas where there is also the highest rate of crime it
can be potentially dangerous to walk through streets at night and
it may be dangerous for children to play outside during the day.
This can lead to a lack of exercise in children as they are not
able to go out and play because it is too dangerous, and this is
recognised as one of the causes of rapidly growing obesity in Britain
and the United States. We then see the economically advantaged families
moving away from these areas to areas like the countryside, here
there is space for children to play and exercise in relative safety
and in fresh air.
An individual’s financial status can also have implications
in diet, with fresh produce being more expensive. Although cheaper
ranges of food such as economy ranges are provided by most supermarkets,
they can have high levels of artificial colourings, flavourings
and preservatives, which are often high in salt and sugars.
Another environmental factor affected by income level is education
in nutrition and well-being, with economically disadvantaged individuals
often being less educated on matters like this. There isn’t
a common knowledge of the benefits of a balanced diet, or the understanding
that smoking and binge drinking present a large number of health
problems ranging from all sorts of cancers to severe liver and heart
This lack of education can extend to health care with working class
individuals either not being educated on proper personal health
care and on how to spot symptoms of diseases e.g. meningitis or
not being able to afford some of the drugs that aren’t available
on the National Health Service (NHS), or simply not having the time
to do something about a problem they discover because they are working
The world is different for the wealthy, and the financially better
off in general. There is the opportunity for those who are financially
better off to purchase private health insurance for example with
BUPA. Private health insurance offers many different advantages
such as better doctors and nursing staff, vastly reduced waiting
times for surgery and better living conditions whilst in hospital.
Politics and Health, Exercise and Fitness
The politics of a country can also be considered to be an important
social environmental factor affecting health. The Labour Party traditionally
provides more support to public bodies such as the health service,
state pensions and a range of benefits for the poor. We can see
government initiatives such as very high taxes on alcohol and tobacco,
with raised taxes on unhealthy food.
The ban of smoking inside pubic spaces and advertising campaigns
showing the effects of smoking, binge drinking, drink driving and
aids have all been chosen to be implemented by the government. If
the ruling party of the country changes then they will have to consider
previous governments policies and ways of educating the public on
health dangers and possibly change them, or cut funding to advertising
‘The troubles’ in Northern Ireland, most prominent
during the 1970’s, led to a high prevalence of stress indicators
such as depression and suicide. This affected school children as
well as adults as from that time there was the problem with sectarianism
that led to a large increase into depression and suicide.
In conclusion, we can see that the environmental factors affecting
an individual’s health take many different forms. The environment
in which a person lives, works and socialises includes the physical,
social, political, financial and geographical aspects People do
not derive their health and well-being from only one aspect of the
world in which they live. As people, we are complex beings, with
both physical and mental health to consider and look after. It is
only when we treat the health of the ‘whole’ person
that we can treat all their illnesses. That is why health is such
a complex and difficult issue for governments and others to deal
with. There are so many factors involved, each needing to be attended
to. If people’s health is to be improved, all of the environmental
factors affecting their health must be addressed, and not just their
immediate medical problems.
Department of Health (1999)
Saving lives: Our Healthier Nation
London: Stationary office
Department of health website – www.doh.gov.uk
Diabetes Across The Borders
Northern Ireland Medical Review – Issue 6 2007
Pub by Medical Communications Ltd
Naidoo and Wills (2001)
Health Studies: An Introduction