Environment and Health Risks: A Review of the Influence and Effects of Social Inequalities.

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Conference Proceeding

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This report serves as a background document for the policy brief on social and gender inequalities in environment and health that was prepared for the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health (Parma, Italy, 10–12 March 2010). It provides an overview of the currently available evidence on the influences and effects of social and gender inequalities on environmental health risks. The evidence has been compiled for six environmental health challenges (air quality, housing and residential location, unintentional injuries in children, work-related health risks, waste management and climate change) as well as for gender-related inequalities and children’s exposure. Additional chapters present interventions on child-related environmental inequalities and social inequalities in environmental health risks in the Russian Federation. Although the evidence base on social inequalities and environmental risk is fragmented and data are often available for few countries only, it indicates that inequalities are a major challenge for environmental health policies. The review confirms that people living in adverse socioeconomic conditions in Europe can suffer twice as much from multiple and cumulative environmental exposures as their wealthier neighbours, or even more. Similarly, inequalities in exposure to environmental threats have been identified for vulnerable groups such as children and elderly people, low-education households, unemployed persons, and migrants and ethnic groups. Only little evidence is available indicating that in some circumstances, well-off and advantaged social groups are more at risk. Irrespective of developmental status, environmental inequalities can be found in any country for which data are available. Despite lack of data from many Member States of the WHO European Region, social inequalities in environmental risk must therefore be considered a public health issue for each country and the whole Region.