Health promotion: from Ottawa to Health 2020

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Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health. Experts and policy-makers from around the world meet in Helsinki, Finland, on 10–14 June 2013, for the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion, to review progress and ways forward to promote health in every sector, and all policies.

With a practical focus on country experiences, the Conference will offer an opportunity to share models and methods. Thursday, 13 June is dedicated to showcasing national and subnational experience in Europe.

Fiscal policy to reduce alcohol consumption: a Finnish example

Using fiscal and pricing policy to manage the harmful use of alcohol is an example of the health-in-all-policies approach. Countries often use excise duty on beer, spirits and, to a lesser extent, wine to manage alcohol consumption and generate revenue.

Before 2008, the pricing of alcoholic beverages in Finland was not specifically regulated. Then Finland sought to reduce alcohol consumption through legislation on multipacks, to ensure that the price of a beer sold in such packs was the same as that of a beer sold separately. Retailers and producers responded by reducing the price of beer and offering multipacks for longer periods. This led to a general reduction in the price of a beer by 40%, allowing young people, for example, to buy more.

Following this experience, the Government of Finland increased alcohol excise duties four times in four years. As a result, all beer prices, both normal and discounted, have risen; tax income has increased by €400 million, and the total consumption of alcohol has decreased by 8%. This indicates that taxation is the most rational way of regulating alcohol prices.

Effective policy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol requires collaboration between sectors and stakeholders, such as ministries of justice, health and transport; the police; health authorities; local communities; and workplaces.

A new WHO/Europe publication, “Status report on alcohol and health in 35 European Countries 2013”, launched in Helsinki on 13 June, provides an overview of alcohol consumption and trends, and cross-sectoral health promotion policies to curb consumption in the WHO European Region.

Health promotion from the Ottawa Charter to Health 2020

In 1986, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion stated that health promotion “is not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond healthy lifestyles to wellbeing”, and that it “puts health on the agenda of policy-makers in all sectors and at all levels, directing them to be aware of the health consequences of their decisions and to accept their responsibilities for health”.

Since then, recognition has grown of the importance of the social determinants of health – the conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age – and the need for health to be a part of all policy-making. Today, health is increasingly seen as a human right; a vital global economic and security issue; a means to equitable human, economic and social development; and an economic sector in its own right.

Health 2020, the health policy framework agreed by Member States in 2012, builds on the concept of health in all policies, and recognizes the complexity of current health challenges. Its two key objectives are to reduce the health divide and improve health and well-being for all, and to improve leadership and participatory governance for health.

The framework is being adapted to national and local contexts, and its values and evidence base used to inform policy-making in the Region. WHO/Europe supports countries in this work.