Protect “Our Planet, Our Health”

In conjunction with the World health day on the 7 April, we should all be reminded to protect “our planet, our health” which is also the theme for the day. What can we do to protect our planet and our health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a five-point plan which encourages us to take action and inspire others. The five-point plan is:

  • Walk or pedal to work at least one day a week. Choose public transport. 
  • Change to a renewable energy provider; turn off the light when not in the room.
  • Buy fresh groceries from local producers and avoid highly processed foods and beverages.
  • Tobacco is a killer and a polluter. Stop consuming tobacco.
  • Buy less plastic; use recyclable grocery bags.

In order for the above to be acted upon by the individuals, we need all stakeholders to take action to achieve the above points.

We may stay too far away from where we work and maybe it will not be possible to walk to work. We may also be unable to walk or cycle to work as footpaths or bicycle lanes may not be available. Therefore, the municipal councils should build new bicycle lanes and footpaths. Walking or cycling to work is beneficial for our health as this increases our physical activities which will reduce overweight or obesity as well as prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellites, heart disease, certain types of cancers etc. Public transport should be made more frequent, convenient, and affordable to promote its use.

Changing to renewable energy may be a challenge for us, as not many households are equipped with solar panels to generate electricity.  However, as our country is blessed with lots of sunshine, there should be more R & D in this aspect and the government should provide tax exemption for manufacturers working in solar energy items.  Turning off the lights, fan etc. when not in the room should be easily practised by all of us and made a habit since childhood.

Buying fresh groceries such as fruits and vegetables from local producers will support our own farmers, but also reduce the carbon footprint generated in the transport of these products from other countries. Highly processed foods and beverages increase the carbon footprint involved in their processing which is detrimental to the environment. In addition, highly processed foods and beverages are also found to increase the risks of obesity and NCDs. A healthy eating environment should be provided by the municipal councils. This could be achieved by restricting the number of food outlets selling highly processed foods and beverages. Higher tax should also be imposed on these foods and beverages. On the other hand, lower taxes should be imposed on healthy foods and beverages.

We should reduce food wastage, and not be influenced by meal deals from the food outlets or food delivery platforms to purchase more food with more discounts. If we do purchase more food and finish eating them, we may gain weight and be at higher risk for NCDs. According to the data by the landfill operator SWCorp Malaysia, there are 17,000 tonnes of food waste recorded on a daily basis, of which 24% are still edible. This food waste can easily feed 2.9 million people for three meals a day. Every food that gets thrown away at the landfill contributes to pollution by its greenhouse gas emission.

Stop consuming tobacco or quit smoking will prevent lung cancer as well as reduce air pollution. The government should create smoke-free cities and impose higher taxes on tobacco. Using fewer plastic wrappers and opting for recyclable bags will save the environment as traditional plastic like PET (polyethene terephthalate) cannot readily decompose. Plastics are bad for the environment because plastics release toxins and greenhouse gasses into the earth and air. If these plastics reach the ocean, they may be broken down into smaller pieces that are mistaken for food and end up killing millions of marine lives.

If we protect our planet, we will be able to protect our health. Let us start acting and inspire others. Happy World Health Day.

This article was written by Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. Published in the New Straits Time, Code Blue, My Sin Chew, and Malaysiakini.

*All illustrations are collected from freepik for educational purposes only.

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