The last twenty years have witnessed the unparalleled speed of often unorganised urbanisation in both developed and developing countries. With the rational residential model, slow growth of population and well-developed infrastructure means that industrialised countries have faced fewer challenges caused by urban development since the 1990s. Conversely, multiple issues have fallen on developing countries due to overly speedy and unorganised urbanisation. According to The World Health Organization, 1.3 million annual deaths in cities are related to air pollution. Additionally, residents in developing countries have a high incidence of diseases.
The period of rapid urbanisation corresponds to a stage when increasing health crises emerged among urban dwellers in developing countries. One idea is that urban health threats mainly result from the individual choice of unhealthy lifestyles. However, a large number of people consider improper urbanisation as a dominant reason for unhealthy lifestyles and urban sickness. This article will argue that inefficient urbanisation in developing countries makes dwellers access unhealthy lifestyles more easily, and will reveal direct health hazards caused by urban pollution.
It may be argued that common health threats basically result from unhealthy lifestyle choices which should be seen as an individual’s prerogative. Lifestyle is sociologically seen as voluntary personal decisions about how to spend free time, which commodities to buy, as well as how to consume entertainment. These decisions are merely the responses of individual values and preferences. To be specific, for example, individual laziness leads to low rates of exercise, which can cause obesity. Similarly, personal tastes such as preferences for certain foods can result in malnutrition in the long run.
Additionally, some people release pressure through things like online games, smoking and drinking. Addiction to the Internet, cigarettes and alcohol can cause tiredness and poor eyesight. In this way, common urban health risks come out of unhealthy lifestyle choices. However, the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles and accelerated urbanisation appear almost synchronously, and this may suggest some correlation between them.
Research has already indicated that lifestyle-related risk elements for cardiovascular diseases are related to booming urbanisation. Therefore, although unhealthy lifestyles may cause health risks anyway, the phenomena might not be as commonplace without the side effects of unreasonable urban planning.
The Side Effects of Urbanisation
Firstly, due to fast urbanisation, there are fewer chances for free physical activities. Public places such as parks and squares in some urban areas are increasingly occupied to develop transport. As a result, daily exercise like walking or cycling has become less secure and enjoyable. Urban residents show less interest in simple day-to-day physical activities as they are sick and tired of the traffic noise, and they also begin to suspect whether it is safe enough to stroll near the highway which is full of vehicles.
Additionally, with the rapid development of transport systems, there are various substitutes for walking and bicycling, for example, efficient subways, bus, taxi and private cars now are available to urban inhabitants. It is then obvious that people have become lazier as they rely too much on modern vehicles. In addition to the transition of trip mode, farming as a traditional activity has been replaced by interior work.
The transformation from physical power to brain power inevitably leads to the absence of enough manual activities as employees spend most of the time sitting in their offices. In short, due to urbanisation, today free physical exercise is not as attainable as before, which can cause reduced motivation for physical training and increasing laziness.
Additionally, there is also a lack of healthy food choices as a result of unorganised urbanisation. Fertile agricultural land in many countries has been gradually occupied by industrial activities. Along with the rapid growth of an urban population, less available agricultural land is unlikely to bear a huge grain demand.
Both people’s search for sufficient food supplies and flourishing urban economic growth have facilitated the development of the food industry in urban areas. However, modern food manufacturing is greatly dominated by producing snacks. Facing more choices of snacks and other unhealthy ready-to-eat foods, it is ineluctable that consumers would change their dietary structure more or less.
Furthermore, food security has become a significant issue due to increasing pollution. In some developing countries such as India, improper urbanisation has created an environmental condition which contains a higher level of heavy metals. Research found that these heavy metals may be absorbed by vegetables through both polluted air and contaminated water or soil. It is widely known that there is always a maximum intake level of heavy metals.
However, contaminated food products may cause excessive intake of heavy metals which may potentially damage physical health and bring further serious issues such as cardiovascular and bone diseases. People then show more worries about natural food products. All of these indicate that a dietary habit which is typically seen as an essential part of a lifestyle has been changed by unorganised urbanisation. Both declining yields of natural crops and increasing food contamination lead to fewer choices of healthy foods for consumers who might then purchase more high-calorie ready-to-eat foods as substitutes. The change of dietary structure brings the potential for health problems.
Yet another result of unplanned urbanisation is enormous rural-to-urban migration, which results in more pressure on urban workers, and provides more potential for the appearance of unhealthy lifestyles. Housing is always the primary consideration for immigrants. In order to deal with the housing shortage, collective dormitories where four to six people of the same sex live together in one room have been provided for rural-to-urban workers by many factories and companies in some developing countries.
However, in addition to rough double-decker beds, little furniture tends to be provided such rooms. Inhabitants living on the same floor (often over 60 people) have to share one bathroom that might include only 4-6 toilets and showers. Such tough conditions have inevitably brought lots of worries to workers’ health. The noise made by roommates would affect the depth of sleep and reduces sleep quality.
Also, limited private space and conflicts between roommates can often cause psychological pressure which may bring further mental issues. The increasing employment competition due to a larger urban population also puts stress on the immigrants themselves and local residents.
Research conducted by Belkic and Nedic in 2007 among female physicians in Novi Sad has shown that occupational stress can cause cancer risks due to some lifestyle-related reasons including smoking, drinking and reduced physical activity. According to a research conducted by Jiménez-Corona et al. in 2009 in Mexico City, more than half of the low-income participants had at least one of the common cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, hypertension, high serum cholesterol and smoking.
No Choice in the Matter
There are, more or less, some correlations between employment pressure and the high morbidity of chronic diseases. Under the relatively high unemployment rate and fierce competition, employers exploit staff through paying low salaries for long hours of working. However, employees have to passively accept this situation otherwise, they would lose their jobs.
Increasing life pressure might make urban inhabitants less likely to take regular physical exercise and keep healthy diets. Furthermore, they tend to choose smoking and drinking as so-called decompressing. All of these are typically classified as unhealthy lifestyles which would cause chronic diseases and even cancers in the long run. Consequently, massive immigration from rural areas increases strain on housing and employment, which can provoke urban inhabitants to adopt bad habits and then increase risks of illness.
In addition to the indirect negative effects above, the exposure to environmental pollution challenges urban residents’ health directly. Tehran, the capital of Iran, has borne grievous consequences caused by rapid but unorganised urbanisation. By 2005, Tehran had accommodated over one-third of industrial firms nationwide. Additionally, the traffic network in Tehran loaded around 2,000,000 vehicles in 2000. Industries produced 29% of air pollution, and the other 71% was from transportation.
Clear air is typically seen as a basic essential for physical health. However poor quality of air has gradually become a character of most urban places in developing countries. Both intensive distributions of industries and congested transport have undoubtedly aggravated exhaust emission, which brings obvious health risks to the inhabitants who are directly exposed to the polluted environment.
Particulate matter (PM) contained in polluted air is especially likely to increase rates of premature death, cardiovascular diseases and pulmonary function decline.
… and Dirty Water
Water pollution is another main concern for physical health. In the Korotoa River in Bangladesh, it has been detected that the content of heavy mental including chrome, arsenic and cadmium exceeded safe levels.
Water is required in almost all the fields of daily life, from daily drinking water to agricultural irrigation. There is no doubt that contaminative water with excess heavy metals puts people’s health in danger. Clearly, if urban planners pursue economic benefits blindly, catastrophic environmental pollution tends to be the immediate punishment which poses direct threats to urban inhabitants.
There are some clues that inefficient urban planning has aggravated the form of unhealthy lifestyles in urban cities which further causes many health worries, so unconscionable urban development is to blame for increasing urban health hazards in many cases. However, the increasing amount of urban diseases is very complex to explain. Lifestyle is still to some degree a personal choice, however, so individuals who insist on having healthy living habits will eventually get there regardless of where they are living.