The environment a person lives in affects their health and quality of life. Our physical, mental and social well-being is dependent on our surroundings. This includes the air we breathe, where we live, work and play, and the way our towns and roads are planned and built.
Rapid economic growth and associated urbanisation have led to a concentration of health dangers. Every year, air pollution causes nearly 500 000 premature deaths across 41 European nations. Premature deaths due to air pollution in Malta have continued to increase from 220 in 2012 to 270 in 2015. Reducing air pollution to the WHO air quality guideline levels would result in less premature deaths, and would also contribute to reducing lung and heart diseases, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women and older people.1,2 The main source of air pollution in Malta is from transport.3
Health should be at the heart of urban planning and road design whereby active travel, such as walking, and cycling, is safe and easy.4 Active travel not only brings significant health benefits but also reduces air pollution and traffic congestion.
Urban green spaces, such public parks and gardens, sports fields, children’s play areas, and roadside verges, have been shown to improve mental health, reduce cardiovascular disease, obesity and risk of type 2 diabetes and improved pregnancy outcomes.
The underlying mechanisms between urban green spaces and health are probably complex and interlinked however they include psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, increased physical activity, reduced exposure to air pollutants, noise and excess heat.5
1. Air quality in Europe — 2015 report [Internet]. Copenhagen; 2015. Available from: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2015/download
2. Air quality in Europe — 2018 report [Internet]. Copenhagen; 2018. Available from: http://www.actu-environnement.com/media/pdf/news-25756-rapport-air-aee.pdf
3. State of the Environment Report 2018 – Summary Report [Internet]. 2018. Available from: https://era.org.mt/en/Documents/ERA – STATE OF THE ENV REPORT_V2.pdf
4. A healthy city is an active city: a physical activity planning guide [Internet]. Copenhagen; 2008. Available from: http://www.euro.who.int/pubrequest
5. Urban green spaces and health [Internet]. Copenhagen; 2016 [cited 2019 May 9]. Available from: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/321971/Urban-green-spaces-and-health-review-evidence.pdf?ua=1