What are Environmental Health Indicators?

We monitor New Zealand’s environmental health through a set of Environmental Health Indicators.

Our Environmental Health Indicators programme is funded by the Ministry of Health.  It is part of their statutory responsibility to monitor the health of New Zealanders. 

What are environmental health indicators?

Environmental health indicators describe the link between the environment and health. They are based on known or plausible cause-and-effect relationships between the environment and health.

The indicators provide information for action. They provide key evidence to help decision-makers, and raise awareness of environmental health risks, to improve human health.

What topics do the New Zealand indicators cover?

The New Zealand environmental health indicators currently cover a wide range of topics arranged in 12 domains: 

Who will find the indicators useful?

The information will be particularly useful for health officials and public health staff in District Health Boards, local government, and other central government agencies.

What are the key purposes of the indicators?

Environmental health indicators help identify potential risks to human health, including emerging risks. The indicators can help to guide policy actions, target action and allocate resources.

The key purposes of the New Zealand Environmental Health Indicators are:

  • to monitor trends in the state of the environment
  • to monitor trends in health outcomes linked to environmental hazards and exposures
  • to compare the environmental health status of geographic areas
  • to monitor the effectiveness of policies and other interventions on environmental health
  • to help raise awareness about environmental health issues
  • to help initiate further investigations into links between the environment and health. 

What do the indicators measure?

Environmental health indicators usually describe one aspect of the environment-health relationship. They can generally be classified into: 

  • Exposure indicators: possible environmental determinants of health
  • Health indicators: possible health effects from environmental hazards and risks

For example, air quality is measured with indicators about the sources of air pollution, air quality monitoring results, and health effects of air pollution.

The indicators don’t take into account the effect of other factors (eg, risk factors such as diet, smoking etc) on health. Usually the available data does not measure an individual's or population's actual exposure to environmental hazards and risks.

The data for indicators are generally sourced from other agencies. 

How are indicators selected?

Indicators need to be robust and meaningful. Our indicator selection criteria below are based on Statistics New Zealand’s Good Practice guidelines [1]. The indicators are evaluated by our team and a technical advisory group every six months.

Table 1: Environmental Health Indicator selection criteria

Indicator selection criteria Explanation
Available data Indicator must have data that can be easily and reliably extracted.
Scientifically valid Indicator must have an established, scientifically sound link to the environmental health issue.
Sensitive Indicator should respond relatively quickly and noticeably to changes, but not show false movements.
Consistent Indicator should be consistent with those used in other indicator programmes (including internationally), so comparisons can be made.
Comparable Indicator should be consistent to allow comparisons over time.
Methodologically sound measurement Indicator measurement needs to be methodologically sound.
Intelligible and easily interpreted Indicator should be sufficiently simple to be interpreted in practice, and be intuitive in the sense that it is obvious what the indicator is measuring.
Able to be disaggregated Indicator needs to be able to be broken down into population subgroups or areas of particular interest, such as ethnic groups or regional areas.
Timely Data needs to be collected and reported regularly and frequently, to ensure it is reflecting current and not historical trends.
Public health impact Indicator needs to relate to an environmental health issue of significant public health impact to New Zealand. This health impact may include affecting a large number of people, a vulnerable population, or Māori health; or having substantial policy relevance.


1. Statistics New Zealand. 2009. Good Practice Guidelines for the Development and Reporting of Indicators. Wellington: New Zealand. 

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