Global urbanization and impact on health

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2003 Aug;206(4-5):269-78. doi: 10.1078/1438-4639-00223.


Nearly half the world's population now lives in urban settlements. Cities offer the lure of better employment, education, health care, and culture; and they contribute disproportionately to national economies. However, rapid and often unplanned urban growth is often associated with poverty, environmental degradation and population demands that outstrip service capacity. These conditions place human health at risk. Reliable urban health statistics are largely unavailable throughout the world. Disaggregated intra-urban health data, i.e., for different areas within a city, are even more rare. Data that are available indicate a range of urban health hazards and associated health risks: substandard housing, crowding, air pollution, insufficient or contaminated drinking water, inadequate sanitation and solid waste disposal services, vector-borne diseases, industrial waste, increased motor vehicle traffic, stress associated with poverty and unemployment, among others. Local and national governments and multilateral organizations are all grappling with the challenges of urbanization. Urban health risks and concerns involve many different sectors, including health, environment, housing, energy, transportation, urban planning, and others. Two main policy implications are highlighted: the need for systematic and useful urban health statistics on a disaggregated, i.e., intra-urban, basis, and the need for more effective partnering across sectors. The humanitarian and economic imperative to create livable and sustainable cities must drive us to seek and successfully overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Good urban planning and governance, exchange of best practice models and the determination and leadership of stakeholders across disciplines, sectors, communities and countries will be critical elements of success.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / poisoning
  • Environmental Health
  • Global Health*
  • Hazardous Substances / poisoning
  • Health Planning
  • Humans
  • Public Health / trends*
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urban Health / trends*
  • Urbanization / trends*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Hazardous Substances