Special report on Healthy Cities in Europe launched

Do healthy cities make a difference? is the central question addressed in the new Health Promotion International special supplement. Looking at intersectoral governance for health and equity in European cities, the supplement presents a collection of critical peer-reviewed analyses and reflections that build on a five-year evaluation process incorporating data from 99 cities across the WHO European Region.

Key findings indicate positive aspects of healthy city approaches on a wide array of public health challenges. These approaches have been recognized for: 

  • Translating policy into action - The WHO European Healthy Cities Network is a 'living laboratory' for testing the strategic health policy commitments of the countries of which the member cities are a part;
  • Addressing health inequities - Health equity has not just remained a critical concern of WHO Member States and the cities in the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, but has also become an important focus of policy and institutional development in member cities;
  • Integrating new governance - The formal recognition of and commitment to taking concrete action on governance as a critical driver for health development at every level of society and government has been adapted successfully to urban settings throughout the WHO European Region; and
  • Taking innovative action - The WHO European Healthy Cities Network and national networks use health equity and governance thinking to develop innovative approaches to broad intersectoral policy development, health equity, health impact assessment, determinants of health and lifestyle interventions, healthy ageing, urban planning and broader supportive environments for health.

The WHO European Healthy Cities Network

A healthy city is not one that has achieved a particular health status level but rather one that is conscious of health and health equity and strives to improve it. (Hancock and Duhl, 1988).

Since it was formally launched 27 years ago, the WHO European Healthy Cities Network has been run based on a set of strong values and principles. Cities wishing to join the Network have had to fulfil a set of 'requirements of engagement'. Development is based on 5-year cycles or phases with specific goals and objectives as well as a set of constants—values and principles—underpinning the healthy cities approach from the start. 

The Network has now entered phase VI, and is holding its annual meeting on 24-26 June 2015 in Kuopio, Finland.

Elements of successful health promotion programmes for cities

Local governments increasingly transcend interventions that address lifestyle, with policies and programmes that include issues of sustainability, urban planning and equity. These approaches require the involvement and commitment of many public policy sectors and civil society, resulting in lasting partnerships for healthy development. 

Moving into complex health-related realms becomes feasible when cities are connected to and inspired by other cities and models of good practice across Europe, facilitated by the Network.

Local governments connect the evidence on social determinants of health, governance and equity and develop visions and strategies that build lasting health in all policies, often without explicit acknowledgement.

Local governments are experiencing the fall-out of the global economic downturn and often have to ensure stringent austerity. However, they remain committed to broader intersectoral strategies for health, recognizing the assets that communities and other local stakeholders can bring to health development.