EU needs to focus on improving its citizens’ environment

25 April 2017 333 Views
EU needs to focus on improving its citizens’ environment

Every year, a quarter of Europeans suffer from depression or anxiety – accounting for half of all chronic sick leave. These, alongside other non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases), have reached epidemic proportions in Europe – often linked to ‘lifestyle’ risks such as high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, poor air quality and obesity. 86% of deaths in Europe are from these diseases, and it is pressuring over-burdened health services.

Recent research offers a glimpse of how nature access and protection could make an unexpected contribution to healing an ailing, stressed-out population. It could also help to restore well-being to a middle-aged and frazzled European Union.

According to a growing body of evidence, nature is an under-recognised healer. Access to nature helps to reduce depression, stress, and obesity, and to boost overall well-being, physical activity, and children’s development. For example, doctors prescribe fewer anti-depressants in urban areas that contain more trees. Middle-aged men in deprived urban areas have a 16% lower risk of dying when they live close to nature. Pregnant women with good access to nature areas record lower blood pressure and give birth to larger babies.

At 60 years old, the European Union is in need of a check-up – and desperately requires a new regimen to prove its worth to an increasingly skeptical public. The European project needs big ideas to reconnect with its citizens. As we mark World Health Day – the focus of which this year is depression – what would happen if the EU were to put nature and people’s health at the heart of the EU project? The EU could redefine itself and put the health, well-being, and a quality of life for all citizens, as well as the long-term health of our shared environment, at the core of a reinvigorated Europe.

The EU can restore trust in its institutions only if it can convince citizens that it exists to improve their quality of life. Yet so far, this is completely missing from debates about the future of Europe. Ensuring a better quality of life and a right to nature for all could help Europe to connect with citizens’ most fundamental hopes and needs in the next decades. It would help improve health and well-being and reduce social and health inequalities. And it could help restore well-being to the EU project.

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