Environmental Risk

Even if your family medical history puts you at high risk for developing a disease, the environment you live in and the choices you make will largely determine your fate. With healthy living, you can reduce if not neutralize some genetic risk factors.

Several key environmental factors can affect your risk for developing disease. The leading preventable cause of death in the United States is smoking, closely followed by obesity. Avoiding tobacco and maintaining a healthy body weight will greatly reduce your risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

healthy nutrition and exercise

Foods That Fuel The Body


The body uses three dietary fuels: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each provides energy (calories) the body needs to keep it running smoothly. Most foods contain a combination of all three fuels. But compared to carbs and proteins, dietary fats provide double the amount of energy.

Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight

It's important to eat just the right amount of calories to meet your body's needs for energy. If you eat more calories than you can use, the body will store the extra calories as fat¬óregardless of whether the calories come in the form of fat, carbs, or protein. If you accumulate too much stored fat, you can become obese. To help maintain a healthy weight, you can choose nutritious foods and be physically active.

BMI calculation

Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation used to estimate body fat based on a person's height and weight. A healthy BMI is between 18.5-24.9. Obesity is defined as having a BMI over 30.

It Takes A Village To Raise a BMI

Salt Lake County BMI

BMI from driver's license records mapped onto census districts across Salt Lake County, Utah.

It's not just your personal choices that affect your environmental risk. Research shows that the neighborhood you live in can also significantly impact your health, including your likelihood of being overweight.

People are more likely to spend time walking when they live in a safe, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with tree-lined streets. And people are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables when they can find them at their neighborhood grocery store.

Reasons To Avoid Tobacco

Tobacco contains a chemical called nicotine that is very addicting. Once you start smoking or chewing tobacco, it's very difficult to stop.

Tobacco contains chemicals that can mutate the DNA in your lung cells, causing them to become cancerous. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and it increases your risk of developing other cancers as well.

Smoking affects more than just your lungs; your heart suffers too. Nicotine narrows blood vessels and decreases the amount of "good" cholesterol in the blood, leading to high blood pressure and heart disease.

On average, adults who smoke cigarettes die 13-14 years earlier than nonsmokers. Approximately 440,000 Americans die each year from diseases directly related to tobacco use.

Known or Probable
Cancer Causing Chemicals in Cigarettes

4-Aminobiphenyl 7H-Dibenz[c,g]carbazole
Benzene Dibenzo(a,i)pyrene
Cadmium Dibenzo(a,I)pyrene
Chromium 1,1-Dimethylhydrazine
2-Naphthylamine Nickel Hydrazine
Polonium-210 (Radon) Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene
Vinyl Chloride Lead
Acrylonitrile 5-Methylchrysene
Benzo[a]anthracene NNK
Benzo[a]pyrene 2-Nitropropane
1,3-Butadiene N-Nitrosodiethanolamine
Dibenz(a,h)anthracene N-Nitrosomethylethylamine
Formaldehyde N-Nitrosomorpholine
N-Nitrosodiethylamine N'-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN)
N-Nitrosodimethylamine N-Nitrosopyrrolidine
Acetaldehyde Quinolineiv
Benzo[b]fluoranthene ortho-Toluidine
Benzo[j]fluoranthene Urethane (Ethyl Carbamate)
Benzo[k]fluoranthene Chrysene Crotonaldehyde
Dibenz[a,h]acridine N'-Nitrosoanabasine (NAB)
Dibenz[a,j]acridine N'-Nitrosoanatabine (NAT)

Researchers have identified more than 4,800 chemical compounds in tobacco smoke; of these, at least 40 cause cancer in humans

Air Quality

factory pollution

Heavy air pollution has a negative impact on health. Pollution increases the severity of asthma, and it can make it harder to recover from respiratory infections. It increases the risk for heart and lung diseases, including cancer. According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution causes an estimated 1.3 million deaths in cities around the world.

Air quality standards are established and regulated by governments, but we all influence the quality of the air we breathe. We can help by choosing less-polluting transportation options and cutting down on our energy use. Even small things make a difference, like turning the car engine off instead of letting it idle.

APA format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, September 1) Environmental Risk. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/environment

CSE format:

Environmental Risk [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): Genetic Science Learning Center; 2013 [cited 2024 May 14] Available from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/environment

Chicago format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. "Environmental Risk." Learn.Genetics. September 1, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/environment.