The Effects of Urbanization on Humans Physical Health

Chris DePalatis
Apr 13, 2018 · 6 min read

Many people see large urban cities as a wonder of human imagination and creativity. They represent how far the human population has come in terms of community development. Many positive things come from urbanization, but there are also negatives. This article will discuss and present data on the implications of urbanization on the physical health of humans living in these large urban areas.

As it would be expected, developing countries tend to see more negative physical health effects than modern countries in regard to urbanization. One example of a developing country experiencing these problems is China. China is a country that in the past 30–40 years went from being an agrarian based society to a significant industrialized country. This industrialization has in effect caused the need for more centralized cities, centralized meaning having lots of jobs and living spaces within a close proximity. This is what is known as urbanization. In most recent decades, since China’s change to being more of an industrial based economy, the country has experienced record high numbers of people migrating within its borders [1]. In effect, the number of cities with over 500,000 people has more than doubled. These migrations are typically of people from rural areas of China moving to the new urban areas. Due to this large influx in the urban population, there are many possibilities for health challenges among these people.

Air Pollution in Urbanized Areas

One very common and fairly obvious negative aspect of highly congested urban areas is air pollution. Air pollution is defined as any harmful substance being suspended in the air. This could include particulate matter, most commonly attributed to industrial plants and refineries waste, or chemicals like CO2 or Methane (which are also products of plants and refineries as well as cars and other modes of transportation). Due to a vast number of people in these urbanized cities, the air pollution is known to be very extreme. These conditions can lead to many different health problems such as: Asthma, cardiovascular problems or disease, and different types of cancer (most commonly lung cancer). When exposed to these conditions for a prolonged period of time one can experience even more detrimental health effects like: the acceleration of aging, loss of lung capacity and health, being more susceptible to respiratory diseases, and a shortened life span.

I grew up in the Midwest the first 10 years of my life. The city I grew up in wasn’t very industrialized and thus the air pollution in the area was at a low level compared to other cities. Eventually my Dad got a job with Dow Chemical, so we moved down south to the Houston area. A couple months after moving to the area, my brother started to develop breathing problems. After visiting the doctor we concluded that he had developed minor asthma. Later in life, discussing it with my brother and parents we concluded that his development of asthma was most likely partially due to moving to a more polluted area than we lived before. In fact the county of texas we grew up in is ranked #1 among texas counties in relation to environmental pollutants [6]. Luckily, my brother was able to take care of his condition early on and now the asthma hardly affects him.

Urbanized Diet

Another way that urbanization affects the populations health is people’s change in diet. For instance, urban cities tend to have lots of accessible, quick, and easy to get food. This food is also more than likely not as high quality as well as contains a large amount of sodium and sugar. Because this food is so accessible, people tend to eat it more. This increase in consumption of low quality food can then lead to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, or many other health conditions.

Diabetes is one very common health condition that affects many peoples lives. It is a health condition in which the glucose (sugar) levels in one’s blood is too high. Insulin is a hormone that assists glucose getting into cells. There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when your body can’t produce insulin and Type 2 diabetes is when your body does not use insulin effectively. Having ineffective or no insulin at all results in glucose staying in the blood. Increased levels of glucose in one’s blood for a prolonged amount of time can lead to many other health risks. Some of these risks include damage to organ extremities, stroke, heart disease, and other complications as well.

There are many specific reasons on how urbanization contributes to the development of diabetes among people. One of these reasons is lack of exercise. Countless studies have shown that exercise helps reduce many negative health impacts. The reason for exercise helping prevent diabetes is because when exercising, your heart rate increases and thus blood is circulated throughout the body more. This helps keep glucose levels in the blood on track. Because urbanization consists of high density communities in a small area, people have less access to areas in which to exercise. Jobs in Urban areas also contribute to the lack of exercise. Most jobs in these developing urban areas involve factory worker jobs and other jobs that tend to require the workers of not much movement. Urbanization also gives access to a lot of cheap, quick, and easy food, given the high population high density area. This easy access to food causes many people to buy and eat it on a consistent basis. Cheap food specifically tends to have higher amounts of sugar than that of other food. These high amounts of sugar along with easy access to this food, people are more likely to develop diabetes. The lack of exercise combined with the high consumption of cheap foods is very detrimental towards one’s health. Fortunately, more developed urban areas have reduced these issues by new ways of development and management of the urban landscape.

Urban Solutions

Some more modern urbanized areas have developed ways in combating health issues. One common example in which to do this are the developments of green spaces. Green spaces specifically contribute to giving areas in which people can exercise. Studies have shown that people living an indoor lifestyle have a higher risk of obesity and heart disease [4]. This access to green spaces helps give residents of urban areas the ability to hinder this possible negative effect.

The city of Austin is a very good example of an urban area that is making changes in order to contribute to limiting all of these different health impacts of urbanization. One can only hope that something will be done across the globe about factors affecting people’s health in urbanized cities. Actions that can be taken include reducing the amount of pollution, creating more green space accessibility, and having healthier food available. Luckily a lot of cities across the country are going through changes in order to improve the modern urbanized life.

References:

[1] Urbanisation and health in China. (2012, March 01). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673611618783

[2] Air Quality Information for the Sacramento Region. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from http://www.sparetheair.com/health.cfm?page=healthoverall

[3] http://www.citieschangingdiabetes.com/content/dam/cities-changing-diabetes/Toolbox/URBAN%20DIABETES%20RISK%20ASSESSMENT_Intro%20Manual_20092017_HRES.pdf

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jules_Pretty/publication/7355171_The_mental_and_physical_health_outcomes_of_green_exercise/links/00b49523993336fef9000000.pdf

[5] “What Is Asthma? How Do You Get Asthma? How Long Does Asthma Last?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 27 June 2004, www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/9993.php.

[6] scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/cap/county.tcl?fips_county_code=48039#air_rankings. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2982925/

[8] Cachada et. al. (2012), Levels, sources and potential human health risks of organic pollutants in urban soils, Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/40475013/Levels_sources_and_potential_human_healt20151129-16167-mnt1n6.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1523655348&Signature=rfclbWqGvuqYDjgls94onio2hXw%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DLevels_sources_and_potential_human_healt.pdf.

[9] Environmental Justice and Southern California’s “Riskscape”. (2001). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/10780870122184993

[10] Zhang, Yinping, et al. Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, July 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3701998/.

[11] The Dangers Of Air Pollution & 6 Ways To Protect Yourself From Harmful Air. (2017, September 13). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from http://www.naturallivingideas.com/dangers-air-pollution/

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