How can policy-makers measure implementation of a life-course approach? A new report analyses the best available evidence

Applying a life-course approach to understanding health and well-being has become a cornerstone of research and policy-making. A life-course approach views health on a dynamic continuum, not as a set of isolated health states, in order to explain disease patterns and other variations such as health inequalities across populations and over time.

Yet measuring how and where policy-makers use this complex and multifaceted approach has proven difficult. To address this, WHO recently published a Health Evidence Network (HEN) report synthesizing the best available evidence on the quantitative and qualitative methods developed to measure a life-course approach at a national level.

Dr Claudia Stein, Director of the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at WHO/Europe, says: “Life-course approach is a key paradigm within Health 2020 and other 21st-century health policy frameworks. This report is a groundbreaking attempt to synthesize and analyse the existing literature on measuring the implementation of a life-course approach by policy-makers. As such, it makes an important contribution to the way Health 2020 and Sustainable Development Goal monitoring and reporting can be enhanced.”

Dr Chandni Maria Jacob, Professor Cyrus Cooper, Professor Janis Baird and Professor Mark Hanson from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, authored the report.

“The increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases in Europe necessitates urgent action,” comments Professor Hanson. “Risk of these chronic diseases accumulates over the life course and so preventative measures to reduce risk in the population need to be instituted early, and measuring their impact is critical. By synthesizing evidence on how European Member States have adopted this approach, the report has enabled us to suggest measures for policy-makers to consider.”

“It is wonderful to see observational and interventional life-course research undertaken over several years translated so effectively into policy,” adds Professor Cooper.

The report builds on 2 other recently published reports examining the measurement of community empowerment and community resilience. These reports were commissioned by WHO/Europe’s initiative to enhance Health 2020 monitoring and reporting. This initiative sits under the umbrella of the European Health Information Initiative, a multimember WHO network that seeks to improve and harmonize information for health among the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region.

The evidence for health and well-being in context (EHC) team and the HEN Secretariat produced the report with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the expert group on enhancing Health 2020 monitoring and reporting. Both the EHC team and the HEN Secretariat operate within the Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at WHO/Europe.

Those interested in a life-course approach or in the wider issues related to measuring values-based concepts in health policy-making are invited to read the full reports.