How Environment Shapes Our Health

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There is clearly poor understanding of how the health of humans is closely connected to the well-being of everything else around them; that human health is directly connected to planetary health. Today, people are focusing excessively on individual health to the detriment of the health of the ecosystem around them. Increasing inequality in all societies is directly affecting the health of the planet. What’s the way forward?

Author K Srinath Reddy, renowned cardiologist, quotes Toni Morrison “If we do not create the future, the present extends itself.” Pulse to Planet is his attempt to amplify advocacy of how the health of the planet earth is absolutely essential to the well-being of humans. He makes the environment as the centerpiece of the health discourse and suggests several paths to achieve a balance.

Dr. Reddy, a former President of the Public Health Foundation of India also headed the Department of Cardiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, wrote this book during the peak of the Corona Pandemic. The pandemic clearly demonstrated how inter-connected the health of the people is with that of the planet. It looks like the world has gone back to the pre-pandemic ways of functioning. This is clearly visible in Indian cities where lakes and surrounding forests have returned to pre-pandemic mess. Mounds of garbage is rising to greater heights and our rivers continue to be dirtier.

This book’s purpose is to help readers get a sharper and deeper understanding of the inter-connectedness of human health and the health of the eco-system. How, for example, human genes act in concert with the genes of trillions of microbes residing within and on the surface of human bodies. How microbiome plays a major role in human health. “It is not just our genes that matter for our health.”

Credit – flickr.com

To drive his point, Dr. Reddy quotes data to show how humans have 22,000 genes compared to 3.3 million genes of human gut microbiota. “Of the panoply of genes that we carry in our bodies, only one percent are truly human.” Healthy microbiome is essential for good health especially for immunity. It is the primary defender against deadly diseases. Microbiome gets altered by behavior. It is possible to nurture healthy microbiome with exercise, balanced diet, and healthy social networks.

It is clear today that changes in human gene expression are influenced by environmental factors. Scientists these days are studying both social epigenomics and environmental epigenomics simultaneously. Dr. Reddy shows, unlike popular belief, that only 10 percent of all cancers are genetically determined. The rest are because of the external environmental factors.

Small is Important

‘The role of the infinitely small in nature is infinitely great’ – Louis Pasteur

Humans like to focus on the big and ignore the small. For example, in conservation there is excessive focus on large mammals like elephants, tigers, cheetah and the rhino. A few conservationists call this ‘Mega Mammal Myopia’.

Pulse to Planet is a call-to-action book. It highlights the need for improving biodiversity. Biodiversity builds resilience against natural disasters, protects against pests, and offers medicinal plants. Are humans squandering the gifts of nature and advances in science by not showing serious intent in containing climate change? To Dr. Reddy, ‘Extinction is a Real Possibility.’

Agenda for a Healthy Society

  • We must recognize, measure, monitor and reduce inequalities in all spheres of development.
  • Ensure that the dominance of market incentives over moral imperatives does not undermine efforts to advance societal well-being.
  • We must make markets sensitive and responsive to public health priorities through consumer consciousness and regulatory measures.
  • For societal well-being, we need to promote a scientific temper where multi-disciplinary evidence informs policies and practice.
  • We must end sectarian strife and parochial prejudice that threaten the well-being of the human collective.
  • Aspirations and apprehensions of the young about their future must be recognized by the present generation of policymakers.
  • We will need new models of societal governance where we need participatory democracy not merely representational democracy.

Pulse to Planet is informative and provocative. It is an easy read without many medical jargons. It is for those who believe that ‘We are not on a lonely planet, but this is our only planet’ and their health is as important as that of the planet’s health.

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