Is open defaecation in outdoor recreation and camping areas a public health issue in Australia? A literature review

Stevenson, Leah C., Allen, Tammy, Mendez, Diana, Sellars, David, and Gould, Gillian S. (2020) Is open defaecation in outdoor recreation and camping areas a public health issue in Australia? A literature review. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 31 (3). pp. 525-532.

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Issue addressed: In Australia, natural areas used for outdoor recreation activities or camping often have limited or no sanitation infrastructure. Recreationist and campers may use open defaecation practices where toilets are not provided. Contaminated soils and watercourses are associated with gastrointestinal illnesses. This review aims to determine if open defaecation is a public health issue in outdoor recreation and camping areas in Australia.

Method: A literature review was conducted using the following search engines: CINAHL, Informit Database, Scopus, ProQuest Science & Technology, Medline (Ovid) and EBSCOhost. Inclusion criteria for this review were both experimental and observational research designs for studies describing the public health issues associated with open defaecation practice.

Results: Out of 12 147 papers identified, only three studies met the inclusion criteria, showing a lack of research into this area. Included were two studies that addressed human waste management practices in outdoor environments and the breakdown of human waste in alpine regions of Tasmania. The third study measured water contamination at a freshwater beach on K'gari‐Fraser Island, Queensland. Visitors to natural areas are potentially at high risk of illness due to exposure to faecal contamination from other visitors using unsafe open defaecation practices in high‐use camping areas.

Conclusion: The limited number of studies addressing open defaecation in the outdoor recreation and camp areas in Australia indicates this review is a starting point to identify critical areas that may be of concern when managing visitors in an outdoor recreation setting. This review recommends investigating barriers and enablers motivating human disposal waste in these settings to help formulate health promotion content; environmental management policies related to sanitation and hygiene should be also underpinned by public health policy; and providing appropriate sanitation options depending on the ecological and visitor numbers to natural areas.

So what‐relevance of findings: Outdoor recreation activities offer physical and mental health benefits for communities. The popularity of outdoor recreation activities is on the increase in Australia. With the rise in visitation to natural areas, management of human waste needs to be addressed to reduce the public health risk of illness.

Item ID: 61387
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2201-1617
Keywords: environmental health, healthy environments, sustainability
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Copyright Information: © 2019 The Authors. Health Promotion Journal of Australia published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Australian Health Promotion Association. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2020 19:46
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4206 Public health > 420604 Injury prevention @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920405 Environmental Health @ 100%
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