People with a chronic health condition or disability

People living with a chronic health condition or a disability are more susceptible to environmental hazards.

People with a chronic health condition or disability are more vulnerable to environmental hazards

People with chronic health conditions may be more susceptible to environmental hazards. For example, they may be at increased risk from:

  • infectious diseases, due to weak body defences
  • effects of air pollution (particularly among people with chronic lung diseases, asthma, and cardiovascular disease), as their lungs are already working hard to cope at ‘normal’ levels of air pollution
  • skin cancer (among people with low immunity, like people who have had an organ transplant or HIV infection).

Health conditions that may increase people’s susceptibility to environmental hazards include [1]:

  • cardiovascular disease, such as ischaemic heart disease and stroke
  • respiratory disease, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • immune-deficiency, like organ transplant or HIV infection
  • mental health conditions.

People with other health needs, including pregnant women, may also be more susceptible to environmental hazards.

Disability may also increase people’s vulnerability to environmental hazards. For example, disability may impair people’s ability to move out of dangerous areas.   

Number of people with chronic health conditions

It is difficult to estimate how many people in New Zealand have any type of chronic health condition. However, results from the New Zealand Health Survey show that in 2018/19 [2]:

  • 4.3 percent of adults had been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease (168,000 adults)
  • 11.5 percent of adults took medication for asthma (452,000 adults)
  • 5.8 percent of adults had been diagnosed with diabetes (227,000 adults)
  • 8.2 percent of adults had psychological distress (323,000 adults)
  • 19.8 percent of adults had been diagnosed with depression, bipolar and/or anxiety disorder (778,000 adults).

Number of people with a disability

The 2013 New Zealand Disability Survey showed the following results [3]:

  • 23 percent of the population (1.1 million people) were identified as disabled, and were limited in their daily activities by a range of impairments. This rate had increased from 20 percent since 2001.
  • Most people with a disability (96%) remained in their own home; just four percent lived in residential care facilities.
  • Older people were the most affected, with 59 percent of adults aged 65+ years identified as disabled.
  • Age-adjusted rates of disability were higher among Māori (32%) and Pacific peoples (26%), than among European (24%) and Asian (17%) populations.
  • Rates of disability were well above the national average in the Northland (29%) and Taranaki (30%) regions, while Auckland had the lowest rate of disability (19%).


1. DANIDA. 2000. Who Suffers? Identifying the Vulnerable Groups. Paper presented at the DANIDA Workshop Papers: Improving the Urban Environment and Reducing Poverty, Copenhagen, Denmark.

2. Ministry of Health. 2019. Annual Data Explorer 2018/19: New Zealand Health Survey [Data File]. URL: 

3. Statistics New Zealand. 2014. Disability Survey: 2013. Hot Off the Press. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.

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