Look beyond health in policy-making

Partners in developing health policy in the WHO European Region are discussing how to add health to other policy agendas at the European Union (EU) Open Health Forum in Brussels, Belgium today.

“Prevention, promotion and strong health systems are needed to eliminate the main risks to health in Europe, such as tobacco use, alcohol use, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and high blood glucose. Many of these risks are outside the control of the health sector, so a health-in-all-policies [HiAP] approach is essential,” said Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, during her keynote address.

Improving the health of the Region’s population requires addressing the causes of disability (which affects a person’s well-being and ability to work) as well as those of death. Disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) provide an aggregate measure of healthy years of life lost to premature death or disability.

Tackling the top 7 health risk factors would reduce the total of DALYs lost by 60% in the 53 countries in the European Region, and by 45% in the Region’s high-income countries.

Active, cross-sectoral collaboration – the cornerstone of the HiAP approach – has benefits beyond health. Engaging the health, environment and transport sectors in promoting active modes of transport (such as walking or cycling) benefits all three sectors in different ways. It:

  • helps to reduce air pollutants, greenhouse gases and noise (environment and health goals);
  • reduces congestion and the need for expensive infrastructure for motorized transport (transport goals);
  • reduces road traffic injuries (transport and health goals); and
  • improves the accessibility and quality of urban life (a goal for all three sectors).

Finally, it encourages physical activity, the only goal primarily related to health.

Ms Jakab called on the Open Health Forum’s participants to continue promoting health in all policies, gathering evidence of the effectiveness of the HiAP approach and developing practical tools for its implementation.

EU Open Health Forum

The Forum is a mechanism through which the European Commission gathers feedback from stakeholders on the implementation of the EU health policy and identifies needs for new policy initiatives at the EU level. It also facilitates networking and the exchange of best practices in implementing EU, national, regional and local policies for public health.