Jun 23, 2020 in Informative

Urbanization and Its Health Effects

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, many people moved from rural areas to cities in the search of waged labor and better living conditions. The migration of rural dwellers to urban environment continues today, and the United Nations forecast that up to 5 billion people will be living in cities by 2030. Currently, “more than half of the world's population inhabits urban areas”. Large number of people living in the same area requires coordination and care of administrative bodies because people need adequate health care, premises to live at, and sanitation to stay healthy. Additionally, large populations living close to one another are not able to maintain emotional ties as in rural areas; and it affects people’s psychological state. Therefore, urbanites get higher standards of hygiene and sanitation and have better access to health care. However, urban environment negatively influences some body functions. In cities, people still have high levels of poverty. Even though urban dwellers can boast at least slightly higher life expectancy, urbanization is generally associated with unhealthy lifestyle and non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

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Literature Review: Urbanization Controversy 

There is controversy in society as to whether urbanization is a positive or negative phenomenon. Some people argue that living in large cities and megalopolises negatively affects people’s health. The assumption is correct in reference to formation of ghettos and unplanned settlements when low wages, poor living conditions, crowding and lack of health care result in endemics of communicable diseases. Moreover, from the psychology standpoint, people develop depressions and mental disorders as well as resort to violence as a means for decreasing emotional stress. However, the aforementioned consequences are a result of low involvement of public services because an access to clean water, health care, and education correspond to better hygiene and elimination of commutable diseases. For example, all countries can acknowledge that malaria stopped its endemic with growth of urbanization and improvement in access to health care.

The general positive effects of urbanization are correlated with many factors affecting human health. For example, it is obvious that contemporary city dwellers live longer better quality lives than rural dwellers. The numerous studies dedicated to urbanization are able to prove the betterment. The 2014 study “Urbanization and Health in Developing Countries” reports that there are many factors affecting life expectancy such as income, health care, nutrition, as well as education and globalization. Urbanization is also among the influential factors because it involves lesser physical activity and worse diet. Therefore, urbanization is not a crucial contribution to longer life expectancy. At the same time, the span of life is directly correlated with “nutritional intake and the number of physicians” and individual visits during his or her lifetime, which is an element of urbanization and industrialization.

Furthermore, urbanization generally has a negative effect on fertility, while it positively impacts child health. Based on the results of the study in Ghana, the authors concluded that there are 11% lower chance for urban women to get pregnant and give birth than for their rural counterparts. The results take into consideration the difference in age, education, and social status of young mothers. However, after giving birth, rural female dwellers frequently can take less effective care of their babies. Also, the report shows that there are higher levels of infant mortality and undernutrition among the dwellers of rural areas. Poverty and lower socioeconomic status of rural families and rural communities contribute to the issue. In contrast, urban areas have the problem of overweight. The rate increases among the people of to higher socioeconomic status, and increases with the abundance of fast food and poor quality food.

Obesity problem truly becomes global because each affluent country and megalopolis acknowledges obesity as an urgent issue. Whereas developing countries may have problems with food distribution, which results in malnutrition and undernutrition, developed countries saw their people’s diets transformed very dramatically as compared to their historical patterns due to an increase in productivity. As a result, an average person would take in more calories, which ranges “from 1 950 to 2 680 kcals/person/day”. With intense marketing, urbanization creates good conditions for excessive consumption. The nutrition philosophy changes, as abundance of fast food results in fat-rich diets with many animal products. With food intake increased, urban lifestyle encourages less physical activity, which contributes to the development of obesity and heart diseases. As a result, urban dwellers suffer from diabetes, heart related diseases, and overweight. Thus, urbanization is in direct correlation with obesity. 

The notion of urbanization refers not only to large metropolitan areas. Urbanization processes can be noticed in some rural areas as well. For example, the study in Uganda, where most places are termed as rural, reveals that lifestyle changes associated with urbanization are detrimental for human health. A decrease in physical activity and an increase in fat-saturated foods and fast food consumption result in a larger number of cardiovascular and cardiometabolic diseases as well as higher blood sugar among the general population.

Inasmuch urbanization requires dwellings, food, and public institutions for large numbers of people, urban areas need energy to heat, ventilate, clean, supply water, take away garbage, and other everyday functions on a large scale. Whereas in early twentieth century there were only 16 cities in the world with the population over a million, in 2015, “there are 23 cities with populations over 10 million”. It means that large metropolitan areas struggle with problems of air, water, and land pollution. Large metropolitan areas usually have factories and plants that pollute the air and water, while the hazardous waste pollutes the natural resources. Additionally, transport and vehicles significantly add to the environment pollution. In its turn, the necessity to use coal and oil for cooking purposes in developing countries decrease the quality of indoor air. In the third world countries, many urban dwellers have electricity but “continue to rely on coal, kerosene, and biomass for heating and cooking”. In the condition of overcrowding, bad indoor air contributes to lung diseases and commutable illnesses. Furthermore, the serious degree of air, water, and land pollution are aggravated by with the increasing challenges of waste disposal. Apart from dangerous industries, pollution is occurring through “illegal dumping and burning of solid wastes and sewage in the informal settlements”. Poor neighborhoods may create dumps and wastes around the premises. The dumpsters poison the air, land and water as well as contribute to outbursts of infectious diseases. Clogged drains and unclean water holes breed mosquitoes and other parasites. Thus, when people use chemical means to exercise insect control, they increases the level of the air pollution.

Study Case: China

As one of the fastest developing countries in the world, China has a fast rate of urbanization and, as a result, faces the related health effects. For example, China has a high statistics of non-smoking women, who developed lung cancer because they used cooking oil fumes. Chinese people use so much coal for their individual use that it “contributes about 30 percent of the outdoor particulate and sulfur dioxide pollution”. Meanwhile, a frequent exposure to coal combustion, especially indoor, results in acute respiratory infections, eye diseases, lung malfunctions and even lung cancer, ear infections, anemia and negative consequences for pregnant women such as low birth weight. People with respiratory problems suffer particularly intensely from the fumes. Individuals with asthma have negative effects of coal burning exposure, which is as little as ten minutes spent in premises saturated with SO2 emissions. Therefore, a wrong choice of household fuels has health risks. For example, hot and cold smoking techniques as well as drying of fish and meats often result in an increased level of carcinogens and arsenic. In China, the Guizhou Province registered “widespread arsenic poisoning” from “chili peppers and corn dried over coal-burning cookstoves” in 2002. Additionally, urban dwellers use plastic, newspapers, and other type of inappropriate burning fuels for smoking and drying foods.

China also can be an example of the negative effect of urbanization on the body weight and dietary plans. The 2003 study based on data from the China Health and Nutrition Surveys revealed that the ongoing urbanization of China correlates with the prevalence of overweight people. The number of overweigh Chinese has been growing all over the country. Moreover, urban areas have more overweight people than rural ones. In comparison with rural areas, the cities demonstrate a twofold increase of overweight people. In terms of socioeconomic status, low-income people are overweight more often than their affluent counterparts, but the number of overweight high-income people is increasing in the modern China. Simultaneously, the increase in weight signaled that the number of underweight people also dropped more significantly in urban areas. In accordance with overall trends, in China, energy intake decreased from “101.8% of the Chinese RDA in 1991 to 95.2% in 199” while protein and fat intake increased “from 21.8% to 27.7%”. Given the fact that traditionally Chinese people eat low-fat diets, the increase in fat consumption is 50% responsible for the change in diet and contributes to an increase in obesity levels. However, rural area inhabitants consume more edible vegetable oils, whereas urbanites eat more animal fats. 


It is clear that the concentration of large numbers of people in metropolitan areas involves some issues with health and environment. After coming to cities, rural dwellers increase fat and protein consumption because their income grows and food opportunities expand. At the same time, workload and living conditions do not encourage the individuals to engage in intense physical activity. The combination of the change in food consumption patterns and lifestyle choices result in obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Simultaneously, living in the city requires energy and fuel on the large scales, which results in the air, land, and water pollution. The environmental pollution has detrimental effects on health and causes related diseases.

As a result of a larger exposure to non-traditional foods, less healthy lifestyles, and environmental pollution, urban dwellers are less fertile, more overweight, have higher rates of diabetes, heart diseases, and less exercise as compared to rural people. At the same time, improvements in public hygiene and better health care are the benefits of urbanization. It means that urbanization cannot generally solve health problems but the government and local municipalities should implement corresponding policies to alleviate negative health effects.

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