World Health Day – The rising challenges of the global diabetes epidemic and climate change

07 April 2022

Each year, on April 7, the global community celebrates World Health Day (WHD). The 2022 WHD theme is ‘Our Planet, Our Health’, highlighting the interconnection between human and environmental health and the urgent need both to keep people and the planet healthy and to foster a movement to develop societies focused on well-being.   

The environmental crisis is also a health crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. The entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits and threatens their health. Global food systems that produce highly processed, unhealthy foods and beverages increase the incidence the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer while causing a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some critical questions on this year’s WHD include how to make clean air, water and food available to all, how to create economies focused on health and well-being and how to make our cities more liveable and empower people to take control of their health and the health of the planet. All of these challenges are of the utmost relevance to people living with diabetes (PwD) and critical to improving their quality of life and health outcomes.

Diabetes is characterised by its complexity and the multiplicity of its expressions and causes. It affects 61 million Europeans today; Europeans of all genders, generations and socio-economic groups, in rural and in urban areas across the continent. Recent studies suggest that there is a bidirectional relationship between diabetes and climate change. This relationship originates from biological, social, environmental, geophysical and economic factors. For example, extreme temperature changes have been reported to have negative effects on diabetes. PwD are more prone to dehydration and cardiovascular events during extreme heat and are negatively affected by sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets during extreme cold weather.[1]

Health promotion initiatives and policies addressing the environmental and socio-economic determinants of health will not only benefit PwD and those at risk, but also the general population. By design, these need to incorporate the key dimensions of well-being, equity and ecological sustainability. On World Health Day, we support WHO’s call for policy makers to implement sustainable, long-term social protection and legal and fiscal strategies, with the protection of human and planetary health at their core.