Regional World Health Day launch: empower older people to participate in policy-making

Empowering older people to participate in policy-making on active ageing was a key message of the World Health Day 2012 regional launch event in Copenhagen, Denmark on 2 April 2012.

Else Smith, Director-General of the Danish Health and Medicines Authority (formerly the National Board of Health) opened the event, underlined the importance of starting early in life to promote healthy habits such as healthy eating, avoiding tobacco use and being physically active to prevent chronic diseases later.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, noted the positive developments that have taken place across the WHO European Region in recent decades. “Increasing life expectancy in Europe is a tremendous achievement, and we need to match adding years to life with improving the quality of life. Policy-makers all over the WHO European Region can support this development by investing in a broad range of policies that promote healthy and active ageing.”

Furio Honsell, Mayor of Udine, Italy, gave examples of how successful policies were put into practice at the local level. Age-friendly urban initiatives in Udine include:

  • ensuring that a green space is within 500 steps from anywhere in the city;
  • changing the distribution of bus stops towards where older people live;
  • promoting 10 easy exercises for older people to do every day;
  • getting older people to help schoolchildren cross roads and to advise on redesigning the road system to encourage road safety;
  • involving the private sector (a supermarket chain) in a programme testing customers’ blood pressure, blood sugar level and body mass index to identify risk factors for noncommunicable diseases;
  • developing community gardens where young and older people can grow vegetables together;
  • encouraging a very active voluntary sector providing social contact and meals-on-wheels services; and
  • promoting courses and workshops on music, games, painting, language and story-telling and writing to keep older people mentally active.

Furio Honsell concluded that success requires actively involving older people in planning, developing and executing these initiatives. “This approach is extremely rewarding. Participatory politics is needed. Being part of the process makes people more active.”