Health through life stages

The life-course approach aims at increasing the effectiveness of interventions throughout a person’s life. It focuses on a healthy start to life and targets the needs of people at critical periods throughout their lifetime. It promotes timely investments with a high rate of return for public health and the economy by addressing the causes, not the consequences, of ill health.

A life-course approach builds on the interaction of multiple promotive, protective and risk factors throughout people’s lives. It adopts a temporal and societal perspective on the health of individuals and generations, including intergenerational determinants of health.

What can the life-course approach achieve?

The adoption of the life-course approach across the whole of government aims to improve health and well-being, promote social justice, and contribute to sustainable development and inclusive growth and wealth in all Member States. If applied to public health in Europe, the scope for improvement is vast.

  • Pregnancy and birth would be a healthy and positive experience for all involved. The early years would give the best possible start for the mental and physical health of both mother and child in a healthy, supportive environment.
  • Young people would be able to make choices that could delay the onset of negative health behaviour. They would not be subject to pressure that forces them to adopt risky sexual or consumer behaviours that could harm them for the rest of their lives. They would be guided away from threats to their well-being, peace and security.
  • The vulnerable transition periods in life when people are most open to change could be used as an entry point for many sectors to engage in health. This would enable people to cope, thrive and recover from the consequences of financial crises, unemployment, displacement and insecurity.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe works with Member States to promote and apply the life-course approach as an essential step towards the implementation of Health 2020, and the goals and targets in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.