Indexed on: 05 Feb '10Published on: 05 Feb '10Published in: Environmental Health
Compelling evidence of major health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and outdoor interaction with 'greenspace' have emerged in the past decade - all of which combine to give major potential health benefits from 'grow-your-own' (GYO) in urban areas. However, neither current risk assessment models nor risk management strategies for GYO in allotments and gardens give any consideration to these health benefits, despite their potential often to more than fully compensate the risks. Although urban environments are more contaminated by heavy metals, arsenic, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins than most rural agricultural areas, evidence is lacking for adverse health outcomes of GYO in UK urban areas. Rarely do pollutants in GYO food exceed statutory limits set for commercial food, and few people obtain the majority of their food from GYO. In the UK, soil contamination thresholds triggering closure or remediation of allotment and garden sites are based on precautionary principles, generating 'scares' that may negatively impact public health disproportionately to the actual health risks of exposure to toxins through own-grown food. By contrast, the health benefits of GYO are a direct counterpoint to the escalating public health crisis of 'obesity and sloth' caused by eating an excess of saturated fats, inadequate consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables combined with a lack of exercise. These are now amongst the most important preventable causes of illness and death. The health and wider societal benefits of 'grow-your-own' thus reveal a major limitation in current risk assessment methodologies which, in only considering risks, are unable to predict whether GYO on particular sites will, overall, have positive, negative, or no net effects on human health. This highlights a more general need for a new generation of risk assessment tools that also predict overall consequences for health to more effectively guide risk management in our increasingly risk-averse culture.