C-TAC News

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Addressing the Health Impact of Environment on the Most Vulnerable

By: Tierney Beauregard, Programs & Communications Intern, C-TAC

We can’t ignore the impact of the environment on the health of the most vulnerable among us, especially as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Heart Association (AHA) has been investigating and revealing the strong ties between environment and human health for decades. In 2010, AHA released an updated statement on air pollution and the development of both acute and chronic heart conditions. In this statement, AHA explains that elderly people face the greatest risk of morbidity and mortality as a result of exposure to particulate matter air pollution, regardless of the length of the exposure. This positions our elderly and chronically ill populations as especially vulnerable. This study also identifies the burning of fossil fuels as the primary source of particulate matter and the air pollution that serves as a determinant of health. This finding points to populations and communities in highly industrialized or urban settings as those at most risk.

Further work conducted by the American Lung Association has asserted that race plays a significant role in exposure to air pollution and mortality due to this exposure. In studies of the Medicaid population, those living in predominantly Black communities were more likely to die prematurely due to particulate matter air pollution than those living in predominantly white communities, regardless of income level. These studies indicate that the development of chronic conditions due to air pollution disproportionately impacts aging populations, especially within communities of color.

In addressing the striking health disparities we see today, environmental degradation ought to be a part of the conversation. Physical environment is a key social determinant of health which largely impacts often overlooked and marginalized communities. Environmental harm, specifically that caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is a major factor putting our sickest and most vulnerable populations at great risk; in addressing the gaps and inequities in our healthcare systems, other systemic issues, such as housing and environmental policies, are vitally important to the persistence of health inequities and must also be addressed in order to best eliminate such striking health disparities.

Finding new ways to support the sickest and most vulnerable among us will be a critical area of focus during the 2020 C-TAC Summit, which will be held virtually from Oct. 27-30. Leaders and innovators will gather to discuss how the landscape of serious illness care is being reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic injustice. Learn more and register today by clicking here.

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