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Planning Retirement Online

Health Atlas

Track Health Risks Where You live

The online Environment and Health Atlas for England and Wales has just been launched and it is a fascinating site.

The Atlas is really just a collection of different maps, put together by counties and regions, to demonstrate differences in the occurrence of various environmental factors and health risks.

The maps have been put together by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (funded by the Medical Research Council) and involves research that covered the risks caused to health from environmental factors for more than 25 years.

The results are intended to help professional health workers as well as the public and while they give a fascinating overview of what is going on in the UK, so many factors are involved in people becoming sick that the Atlas cannot be taken as a main information platform to determine your risk of getting a disease.

Nevertheless it is without doubt a very worthwhile project and hopefully will lead to more research. Why, for instance, is there such a high risk of suffering from bladder cancer in north and south Wales; ( ) ; or why does Merseyside have such a high risk of liver cancer ( ); or why does Northumberland have a hot spot for heart disease )? Having achieved evidence of these disparities no doubt more research will now be undertaken.

Equally interesting in the Atlas is the environmental sector, again showing maps that illustrate the levels of agents that can be connected to health problems. The map of nitrogen dioxide predictably shows the highest concentrations in cities and conurbation areas, consistent with transport sources being a major cause of outdoor air pollution.

The map showing levels of agricultural pesticides is interesting. Fungicides are some of the most commonly used pesticides to protect plants and prevent contamination of foods, and humans can absorb them through breathing, eating or even through contact with the skin or eyes. Farmers today use half the levels (weight wise) of pesticides than they did 20 years ago although they treat larger areas today. The maps show the highest usage is in east England and especially in the east riding of Yorkshire. Here for once Londoners came out best, obviously because there is little agriculture in the city centre!

You can type in your postcode under any section of the map to find out specific data for your region. I have just learned that we suffer from among the lowest levels of sunshine in the UK which is disappointing.

Overall, the actual health benefits for the general public from the Atlas are small. Knowing there are spots in Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire with a higher risk than normal of suffering from kidney disease won’t necessarily help local residents avoid problems.

But it is a good health resource and Dr Anna Hansell, who led the research, said that lifestyle factors have to be taken into account in the results. Nevertheless, she said the maps had highlighted some surprising variations and hopefully some really important benefits would come out of further research using the maps.

Visit to see the Environmental and Health Atlas for England and Wales.



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