Australians face increasingly large-scale health risks from our expanding impact on the natural environment, ranging from increases in weather extremes and dengue fever to obesity, diabetes and mental health.

Twelve of Australia's top health and medical researchers have contributed to a new report which concludes that rapid environmental and climatic changes pose increasing risks to the health of Australians.

Released by Research Australia, the 'Healthy Planet, Places and People' Report found that: Deaths from heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease, from increases in heatwaves, could double or triple by 2050; Asthma -- already affecting 3 in 20 children and 1 in 10 adults -- is likely to increase in some groups; The incidence and geographic range of some mosquito-borne infectious diseases will increase; Food poisoning -- with 5.4 million cases reported each year -- is also likely to rise; Viral infections such as avian flu and SARS will spread more readily as population density, people movement, trade and land clearing increase.

Professor Tony McMichael of the Australian National University, who led the report and is part of the Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that researchers are just beginning to recognise the health implications of a warmer planet. "Our rapidly expanding impact on the natural environment is casting a huge shadow over the health of future generations," Prof McMichael said.

"It is not just a warmer planet and weather disasters -- climate change is one of many environmental changes. Our health is also endangered by depleted water flows, land degradation, disrupted ecosystems and acidified oceans. We need better understanding of these risks, and how to reduce them, through new research."

2007 Australian of the Year, Prof Tim Flannery said it is hardly surprising that human health will be strongly influenced by climate change. "From water availability and quantity to temperature and food, our changing climate will influence all of the fundamentals of life," Prof Flannery said. Proudly supported by "To ignore climate change in terms of human health would be a bit like treating the fish in a fishbowl, while refusing to change their ever more polluted water."

Prof McMichael said health and medical research has long been based on the premise that the natural world around us is essentially constant. "Today, human actions are inadvertently impairing the working of the world. We need to understand more about how human-induced changes to climate and global environment are affecting, and will affect, our lives," Prof McMichael said.

The report was launched by Research Australia CEO, Rebecca James, who said the report's findings highlight the importance of health and medical research in helping Australians adapt to the changing environment. "We are only beginning to recognise the health implications of a warmer planet. More research is needed to understand its full impact on our health, and how we can adapt," Ms James said.

"The potential health impacts of climate change are significant. Without the work of medical researchers to address health risks, the impact on our health, economy and society could be dramatic."


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