Improving Community Health Through Environmental Support

DCMC supporting environmental healthThe connection between our environment and well-being is undeniable. At Door County Medical Center, we recognize this correlation and actively engage with environmental organizations across the peninsula. Through partnerships and collaborations, we strive to be responsible stewards of both the physical health of our community and the health of our land. Together, we're committed to fostering a healthier future for Door County.

The Costs of an Unhealthy Environment

Globally, the number of deaths linked directly to environmental causes averages 24% of total deaths every year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Healthier environments could prevent almost one-quarter of the global disease burden."

Our environment is one of the primary routes for human exposure to airborne, waterborne, and chemical pollution. According to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study, air pollution alone results in 6.7 million premature deaths worldwide yearly. In the United States, that number comes to around 107,000 premature deaths and costs the nation roughly $885 billion annually.

Chemical and trash pollution in waterWaterborne pollution, often resulting from poor sanitation or chemical contamination, results in millions of Americans becoming sick each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their estimate—that roughly 7.2 million Americans suffer from waterborne diseases yearly—finds that around 600,000 people per year require an emergency room visit due to waterborne pollution, and 118,000 require hospitalization. The cost in human lives and dollars averaged 6,600 and $3.3 billion, respectively.

Exposure to chemical pollution is also a serious issue. People are exposed to a vast array of chemicals through polluted air and water, consumer products (often in the form of plastics), and diet. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that 2 million people died in 2019 as a result of exposure to hazardous chemicals. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently found that globally, "[The economic] costs associated with environmental chemical exposures" are roughly $7.5 trillion per year.

The impacts of climate change also pose enormous and immediate threats to human and economic health, coming in the form of heat waves and cold snaps, flooding and drought, inconsistent seasonal weather patterns, and shifts in the patterns of infectious diseases and allergens.

The WHO report finds diseases that are directly attributed to air pollution, chemical contaminants, and waterborne pathogens include, but are not limited to:

  • Upper respiratory infections

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer

  • Diarrheal diseases

  • Additional diseases that have environmental causes include chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and asthma (as a result of air pollution), rheumatoid arthritis, down syndrome, and other congenital abnormalities (as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke and chemicals like pesticides), Mental, behavioral disorders (like anxiety and depression), neurological disorders such as Parkinson's, and chronic kidney disease (as a result of lead exposure).

Healthy Environment, Healthier You

People planting treesWhen we take care of our natural resources, those resources take care of us. Trees trap carbon and filter pollution from the air, and grasslands store massive amounts of carbon in their roots. Forests, grasslands, and wetlands that border rivers, streams, and lakes filter pollution and contaminants from the water.

Additionally, numerous studies show that spending time in nature can positively affect human health. For example, a recent study performed by the University of Exeter and reported on by Yale Environment 360 found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces—local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits—were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don't.

Of the more than 1,000 studies that currently look into the health benefits of experiencing the natural world, many found that time in nature:

  • Reduces stress: Spending time outdoors lowers the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, and lowers blood pressure—both important for reducing the development of cardiovascular disease.

  • Improves cardiovascular health: Along with reducing stress and lowering blood pressure, more time spent outside correlates to more time spent being physically active. Even just looking at pictures of trees and plants has been shown to lower stress, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.

  • Enhances immune function: Our immune system is built throughout our lives through interactions with microorganisms that we encounter in different environments. It has been found that exposure to "[N]atural environments might be able to positively influence immunoregulatory pathways," leading to stronger "immunological defense mechanisms."

  • Improve cognitive and mental health: According to the American Psychological Association, "[A] stroll through a city park [or] a day spent hiking in the wilderness…has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation." It can even increase self-esteem and lessen the effects of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

DCMC's Environmental Support in Door County

Group of people picking up litterAcknowledging the profound benefits of environmental health, DCMC views its support for local environmental initiatives as an extension of preventive medicine. Through close collaboration with Door County's leading environmental organizations, DCMC is committed to conserving natural resources and enhancing green spaces for the well-being and health of the community.

Local environmental organizations that DCMC regularly supports and collaborates with include:

  • The Community's Garden: Located on the DCMC campus at 16th Place in Sturgeon Bay, The Community's Garden is a nonprofit organization that rents garden plots from the hospital for a symbolic $1 a year. Each 20' x 20' plot is available to individuals for an annual fee of $50. To support health and wellness, DCMC offers its employees discounts on 10 plots each season and provides a 50% rental fee reduction for families receiving SNAP benefits through FoodShare, WI. The Community's Garden aims to highlight the vital link between community well-being and nature.

  • Climate Change Coalition of Door County: This is a volunteer-driven, non-partisan organization focused on educating the public on the science surrounding the climate crisis while promoting mitigation strategies and adaptation to the effects of climate change

  • Crossroads at Big Creek: This beautiful 200-acre preserve brings together the young and old, experts and learners, researchers, and policymakers. It serves as a crossroads between the past and the future, a place where Door County residents and visitors come together to improve their quality of life.

  • The Ridges Sanctuary: This is Wisconsin's first land trust, and for the past 80 years, it has expanded to ensure the protection of the state's most biologically diverse ecosystem.

  • Door County Land Trust: Since 1986, this organization has worked to preserve, maintain, and enhance lands that contribute significantly to the scenic beauty, open space, and ecological integrity of Door County. At that time, the Door County Land Trust worked with landowners to protect more than 8,800 acres across the peninsula.

Investing in our natural surroundings pays dividends in community health. Research consistently shows that time spent in nature boosts physical and mental health by reducing stress, enhancing cardiovascular and immune functions, and improving mental health. Simply put, greener environments foster healthier communities.

Published 4/19/2024 11:36:04 AM
Tags: community health, environment, environmental stewardship, news, non-profits

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