Promoting health in a fast-changing world

Developing a strong, effective and credible health promotion strategy requires taking account of major global changes and trends, including climate change, global urbanization and the ageing of the population.

This was the foundation of a keynote speech given by Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, at the opening of the 20th IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion, organized by the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE).

Research indicates that temperatures are rising across the globe. Unless action is taken, developing countries will bear the burden of many of the ill effects caused by this seemingly irreversible trend. Ms Jakab said that health promoters worldwide needed to include the words “adaptation” and “mitigation” in their vocabulary.

In 2008, the world’s urban population was bigger than the rural one. Urbanization brings not only benefits, such as increased access to services and employment, but also many problems, including urban poverty, pollution and increasingly inactive lifestyles. Ms Jakab challenged the Conference participants to explore ways to protect health in cities through joint action with urban planners, local governments, and with the health sector. WHO/Europe’s Healthy Cities movement was a good model for this approach.

By 2015, for the first time in history, the share of the global population aged over 65 years is projected to exceed that aged under 5. The inversion of the traditional population pyramid is resulting from the “baby boom” population’s reaching old age and health and social developments’ helping more people live longer. Ms Jakab emphasized the importance of good health care and healthy lifestyles throughout people’s lives, and the need for health promotion, starting early in life.

Health promotion: a solution

Problems such as child and maternal mortality, tuberculosis and malaria persist. Poor countries bear a larger share of the disease burden than wealthier countries. Social injustice – which limits people’s right to have access to resources, a fair income and a political voice – directly affects health.

Solutions to these problems lie not only with scientists and specialists but also with health promotion: action to address the social determinants of health and concrete public policies that give access to services, promote health literacy and empower communities. Most of the determinants of health lie outside the reach of the health sector, so this sector must find ways of acting with others effectively and sustainably.

The health of the future depends on the application of health promotion principles today.

IUHPE Conference

The five-day Conference is attended by over 2000 health professionals and decision-makers from around the world. This year, 15 keynote speakers were invited to share insights into health promotion and sustainable development.