World Health Day 2010: Tackling health inequalities should be a priority

Copenhagen, 7 April 2010

To mark World Health Day, WHO is launching a global campaign to raise awareness of the impact of increasing urbanization on the health and lifestyles of people around the globe. WHO calls on municipal authorities and concerned citizens to take a close look at health inequalities in cities and take action.

Over half the world’s population now lives in cities, and urbanization will be among the most important global health challenges during the 21st century. By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people around the globe will be city dwellers, rising to 7 out of 10 by 2050.

Urbanization is associated with many health challenges – infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases, including cancer and heart disease – as well as unhealthy life choices such as tobacco use and alcohol abuse. In addition, city dwellers are more exposed to road traffic accidents, injuries, violence and crime. The urban poor suffer disproportionately from a wide range of diseases and other health challenges.

“With increasing urbanization, health inequalities in cities are on the rise. To reverse this trend, representatives of local and national governments are urged to develop policies to protect and promote health, across multiple sectors, including the environment, health, transport, education and urban planning,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

In the WHO European Region, 70% of the population lives in urban areas. Over 92% of city dwellers are exposed to levels of particulate matter that exceed the WHO air quality guideline value. Road traffic injuries kill about 100 children and young people aged under 25 every day. Environmental noise is perceived to be the most common stressor in urban areas.

The WHO-initiated European Healthy Cities movement has been an important policy vehicle over the last 20 years to engage local governments in health development. It has brought over 1500 cities into a process of political commitment, institutional change and capacity building.

The WHO Healthy Cities networks promote comprehensive and systematic policy and planning with an emphasis on health inequalities, urban poverty and participatory governance. They support partnership-based work across sectors, integrated planning and networking for solidarity and innovation.

“1000 cities, 1000 lives”

WHO’s global campaign – entitled “1000 cities, 1000 lives” – encourages efforts to make cities healthier places to live, and brings together mayors, citizens and nongovernmental organizations through a unique social media web site.

With the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), WHO will soon publish a report on urban health inequalities around the world, including a series of practical examples and policy recommendations for evidence-based interventions.

World Health Day is celebrated every year on 7 April, the anniversary of the founding of WHO. The Day aims to raise awareness of key health issues and provides a global platform for action.

With queries on urbanization and health, please contact:

Dr Agis Tsouros
Regional Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel. (mobile): +45 23 39 14 84

For other press queries, please contact:

Ms Zsofia Szilagyi
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel. (mobile): +45 24 67 48 46