Integrated health promotion: the Dutch experience

Djoeke van Dale

The team of the RIVM Centre for Healthy Living.

WHO has released a new good practice brief relating the experience of the Netherlands in supporting health promotion at a grassroots level and translating knowledge and expertise into practical tools for use in the local context.

Health promotion in the Netherlands involves many players, and the challenge is to merge national and local approaches effectively. At the national level, a variety of health-related organizations provide expertise on specific themes. However, local governments are responsible for the health of their populations through the actions of local professionals.

In 2005, it became clear that these local professionals felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of potential health promotion activities. In addition, evidence on the quality and effectiveness of these interventions was difficult to access.

To address this, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport established the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) Centre for Healthy Living as a national hub of integrated health promotion expertise. The Centre encourages systematic, informed approaches; supports local professionals and policy-makers; and coordinates health promotion across the country.

The Centre is a prime example of how the national government has taken up its stewardship role within the health promotion landscape, which is shaped both by local governments’ responsibilities and by a variety of theme-specific health promotion institutes operating nationally.

The Centre works closely with a wide range of partners within and outside the health sector. It gathers, enriches and disseminates knowledge for application at a grassroots level through the following core activities and products:

  • the collection of good practices and their translation into practical tools that can be applied locally;
  • the systematic assessment of effective health promotion practice;
  • a web portal with information about the integrated approach in specific settings, practical tools and a database of interventions; and
  • tailored face-to-face support for health promotion professionals and local authorities through meetings, training and coaching.

Each month, an average of 14 000 individuals access the web portal, and 5000 individuals access the intervention database.

“The Centre for Healthy Living is a good example of how governments can play a stewardship role in fostering robust, comprehensive health promotion, even within a health system with diversified responsibilities,” says Annemiek van Bolhuis, RIVM’s Director of Public Health and Health Services.