Environmental Health Indicators for New Zealand 2008

Chapter 1: Introduction Overview

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Chapter 1: Introduction


The environment plays an important role in the health and wellbeing of a population. It provides our basic needs for leading healthy lives, including clean air and fresh water. The state of the environment is a modifiable risk factor for a number of health conditions, and contributes significantly to the global burden of disease (Pruss-Ustun and Corvalán 2006).
The term environmental health describes those aspects of health that are related to the environment through physical, biological, chemical, social and psychosocial factors. Environmental health covers aspects such as water quality, air quality, sanitation, vector-borne disease and noise. The monitoring of environmental health involves the routine and ongoing collection, analysis, interpretation and reporting of data on aspects of environmental health. It is important to monitor environmental health because robust and reliable scientific information provides a key basis for decision-makers, environmental health practitioners and the community to improve and address environmental health concerns.
The purpose of this report is to present key indicators of environmental health in New Zealand. The report examines indicators for driving forces and pressures, and specifically focuses on exposures, effects and actions in three broad areas:

  • air quality

  • water quality

  • biosecurity.

In this report the indicators cover the driving forces and pressures on the environment, the state of the environment, exposure to environmental hazards and related health effects. Data have been sourced from existing data collections, many of which have been collected by agencies outside the health sector, reflecting the wide diversity of agencies involved in promoting environmental health in New Zealand.

There is a complex relationship between the environment and health, and this report attempts to simplify this relationship into a set of indicators. However, given the complex nature of environmental health, it is not possible to capture all the interdependencies between the environment and human health within this single set of environmental health indicators. It was therefore not possible to explore all environmental health issues or to analyse the causal relationships between the state of the environment and human health outcomes. The analyses presented here are descriptive only. However, it is hoped that this report will encourage interest in environmental health issues and will be built on in future years with further environmental health indicator reports as well as epidemiological studies.

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