Public health, environmental and social determinants of health (PHE)

Specialized key area/topic

Group photo of adolescent boys fishing by the sea
WHO/TDR /Andy Craggs

An estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments - nearly one in four of total global deaths. Environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries.



  • Air pollution
    Air pollution continues to pose a significant threat to health worldwide. Many countries around the world do not have regulations on air pollution.
  • Chemical safety
    Ensures early warning and prevention of harmful effects of chemicals to which humans are being increasingly exposed, and assesses potential risks to human health.
  • Children's environmental health
    Child survival and development hinge on basic needs to support life; among these, a safe, healthy and clean environment is fundamental.
  • Climate change and human health
    Large-scale and global environmental hazards to human health include climate change, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity and much more.
  • Electromagnetic fields
    Electric and magnetic fields are part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation which extends from static electric and magnetic fields, through radiofrequency and infrared radiation, to X-rays.

  • Environmental health impact assessment
    Health Impact Assessment provides decision makers with information about how any policy, programme or project may affect the health of people.
  • Environmental health in emergencies
    Death and disease burden from emergencies, disasters and disease outbreaks associated with environmental risk factors can be significantly reduced by effective prevention, preparedness and response capacities.
  • Health and sustainable development
    Well-designed sustainable development strategies across sectors such as transport, housing and energy can lead to multiple gains for health, climate and the environment.
  • Ionizing radiation
    The aim of the Radiation and Environmental Health Programme is to look for solutions to protect human health from ionizing radiation hazards by raising people's awareness of the potential health risks.
  • Occupational health
    Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses remain at unacceptably high levels and involve an enormous and unnecessary health burden, suffering, and economic loss.

These sections of PHE topics are no longer updated

  • Healthy settings
    A strategy for participatory health protection and promotion organized around one setting, such as Healthy Cities, Healthy Schools etc.
  • Health and Environment Linkages Initiative
    Is a global effort by WHO and UNEP to support action by developing country policy makers on environmental problems to health.

  • Occupational health
    Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses remain at unacceptably high levels and involve an enormous and unnecessary health burden, suffering, and economic loss.
  • Quantifying environmental health impacts
    The environmental burden of disease quantifies the amount of disease caused by environmental risks.
  • Social determinants of health
    The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.
  • Ultraviolet radiation
    Small amounts of UV are essential for the production of vitamin D in people, yet overexposure may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye and immune system.
  • Water, sanitation and health
    WHO works on aspects of water, sanitation and hygiene where the health burden is high, where interventions could make a major difference and where the present state of knowledge is poor.