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Prevention and Preparedness

The planet’s climate is changing and these changes are likely to affect human health. Individuals, families, and communities can make adjustments to prepare for these changes. Taking these steps can help you stay healthy today and in the future.

Eat Differently

Pre-packaged foods, fast food, and soft drinks are fast and convenient, but the production of these highly processed foods uses large amounts of materials and energy. These foods also tend to be high in fat, sugar, and calories. Choosing many foods from these areas, and consuming any food in excessive portions, contributes to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. These conditions can increase the health risks posed by heat waves and extreme storms. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a good resource to help people guide their dietary habits.

Healthier options include decreasing the amount of meat and other animal products you eat while increasing your consumption of vegetables and fruits. This is commonly referred to as eating lower on the food chain. These changes in eating habits help to decrease the amount of energy used to provide your food. Eating locally grown foods can also indirectly benefit your health. Food grown and produced far away requires transportation to reach the dinner table, eating locally saves energy by reducing the amount of fuel used to transport these products.

Travel Differently

Walking, bike riding, and mass transportation are alternatives to driving cars that run on gasoline and contribute to air emissions. Like cars, planes burn large quantities of gasoline as fuel; consider flying less to save energy and reduce emissions. Some frequent flyers choose to buy carbon offset credits, which fund energy saving efforts to reduce the total impact of the greenhouse gases produced by their flights.

Walking and bike riding are more than alternate forms of transportation; they are steps to healthier lives. Automobile traffic contributes to air pollution, which in turn means more illnesses related to breathing problems such as asthma. Furthermore, every additional car on the road can lead to increases in the numbers of injuries and deaths from vehicle crashes, which already kill more than 40,000 people each year die.

To decrease your own risk of injury when walking or biking, you must have access to safe routes of travel. Using the principles of smart growth, communities can design walkable neighborhoods that decrease the need for travel by car and increase safety for walkers and bikers. These changes will benefit all pedestrians, including some of the more vulnerable ones—chzildren walking and biking to school. Learn more about the community benefits of safe routes to school at the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

Decreases in air pollution and the risk of motor vehicle crashes are not the only health benefits of alternative transportation. Walking and bike riding are both effective forms of exercise, which helps to prevent overweight and obesity, as well as the health conditions associated with them. Decreasing exposure to heavy traffic and long commutes may also contribute to mental wellbeing, especially when the alternative involves walking or biking in green outdoor settings. Learn more about the benefits of walking, and biking and about strategies your community can use to create areas that are safe for walkers and bikers at CDC’s Healthy Places website.

Go Green at Home and Work

Going green leads to a healthier environment and a healthier environment leads to a healthier you. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging everyone to shift to a “green culture,” in which environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. EPA recommends making small changes at home and at work to create a greener world.

Many of the benefits of going green have indirect effects that can your health. Driving less reduces car emissions that contribute to air pollution. Air pollution can worsen the symptoms and severity of respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Recycling and using energy efficiently and wisely conserves limited resources so that they can be used where most needed. These uses include efforts to provide food, shelter and healthcare.

Be Prepared

Many of the potential health effects of climate change are related to threats we already face, including heat waves, extreme weather events, and emerging infectious diseases. These threats may seem overwhelming, but taking preparedness steps now can help to keep you and your family safer and healthier when they do occur.

At Ready.gov you can access information that will help you to prepare for the unexpected. These resources will assist you in getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, and staying informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur and their appropriate responses.

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