People living with a disability

People living with a disability or pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible to environment hazards.

People in poor health more vulnerable to environmental hazards

People with chronic health conditions may be more susceptible to environmental hazards. 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
  • disability.

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 2012/13 [2]:

  • 5 percent of adults had been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease (176,000 adults)
  • 11 percent of adults took medication for asthma (392,000 adults)
  • 6 percent of adults had been diagnosed with diabetes (205,000 adults)
  • 31 percent of adults are obese (1.1 million adults).

Disability may also increase people’s vulnerability to environmental hazards.  For example, disability may impair people’s ability to move out of dangerous areas.  The 2013 New Zealand Disability Survey showed that [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, and has increased from 20 percent since 2001
  • most people living with a disability (96%) remained in their own home, just four percent lived in residential care facilities
  • older people were most affected, with 59 percent of adults aged 65+ years identified as disabled
  • age-adjusted rates of disability were highest amongst Māori (32%) and Pacific People's (26%) when compared to the European (24%) and Asian (17%) populations
  • rates of disability were well above the national average in the Northland (29%) and Taranaki (30%) regions whilst Auckland had the lowest rate of disability at 19 percent.

The following population groups tend to have higher levels of chronic health conditions, which may increase their vulnerability to environmental hazards:

  • older adults
  • Māori
  • Pacific
  • people with low socioeconomic status.


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. 2013. New Zealand Health Survey: Annual update of key findings 2012/13. Wellington: Ministry of Health. 

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

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