Our physical environment in its many forms is key to our health and wellbeing. Specific observations, discoveries and accumulations of evidence over time, have repeatedly driven governments to seek to remove or reduce environmental threats to health. Today, action on environment by government and others still protects individual and population health. In Scotland, the scope of this activity is wide, targeting toxic, infectious and physical aspects of the places where we live, work, learn, play and socialise and also of the food and water we consume.
Getting it right on environment for everyone's health and wellbeing, including those made especially vulnerable by age, disability or pre-existing illness, might be regarded as a core value of government. Yet, from a 21st-century perspective, the challenge to governments everywhere of creating and maintaining an environment consistent with health and wellbeing assumes new and more complex dimensions. Health and wellbeing are products of a complex interaction of factors in our social and physical environment with our behaviour and our genetic make up. Growing recognition of this complexity, set against a background of some stubborn health challenges sets a new agenda for environmental health. Toxic, infectious, allergic, and physical threats, which demand our immediate attention, still exist and will continue to emerge. However, there is now an additional need to shape places which are nurturing of positive health, wellbeing and resilience and which are consistent with and promoting of healthy behaviour and healthier lives.
"How people feel about their physical surroundings, can impact on not just mental health and wellbeing, but also physical disease."
Health in Scotland 2006: Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer
The contribution of the physical surroundings to the health of those living in our most deprived areas of society is significant. This is a view increasingly supported by the flow of evidence. Indications are that the environment in poorer neighbourhoods in the UK is generally no more toxic or infectious than that of more affluent communities. Frequently though, such places are untidy, damaged and lacking in amenity. These factors create neighbourhoods which are often alienating and even threatening. Implicitly this contributes to a cocktail of disadvantage inconsistent with health and wellbeing for adults and children.