World Health Day 2012 – Active ageing adds healthy life to years

Copenhagen, 29 March 2012

Europe’s population is living longer than ever before. Average life expectancy at birth in the 53 countries in the WHO European Region is over 72 years for men and around 80 for women. While birth rates and total population numbers are declining in some parts of the Region, the proportion of people aged ≥65 years is forecast almost to double between 2010 and 2050. The European Region has, however, not only the highest life expectancy of all WHO regions in the world but also some of the highest rates of some of the risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, that lead to premature death and the development of chronic diseases.

These trends have profound implications for individuals and society, so population ageing has become a priority concern for policy-makers throughout the Region. In an environment of demographic change and rising fiscal constraints, healthy and active ageing has become key to the future sustainability of health and social care systems.

Policies to support healthy ageing

On 2 April, WHO/Europe will present policies for healthy ageing, followed by a panel discussion among policy-makers and experts. It will host the event with the National Board of Health, Denmark, launching a series of campaigns, conferences and public events throughout the European Region to mark World Health Day, which is celebrated each year on 7 April. With the theme “Active ageing: good health adds life to years” for the 2012 celebration, national and local governments, with WHO and other partners, will raise public awareness of and facilitate debate on how people can remain healthy and independent in later life and what governments can do to support them.

“Increasing life expectancy in Europe is a tremendous achievement and we need to match adding years to life with improved quality of life. Policy-makers all over our Region can support this development by investing in a broad range of policies that promote healthy and active ageing,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The chances of remaining healthy and active in older age vary greatly between and within our Member States. Promoting healthy behaviour and ensuring age-friendly environments for all populations and age groups are important steps to add life to years.”

Priority interventions

To support this effort, WHO/Europe is working with countries to design a series of priority interventions that focus on healthy ageing over the life-course, creating supportive environments and adapting health systems to the changing needs of an ageing population. These interventions include:

  • reducing the risks of falls;
  • increasing access to and opportunities for physical activity;
  • providing public support to informal caregiving, with a focus on home and self-care;
  • building capacity in geriatrics and gerontology among the health and social care workforce;
  • increasing the vaccination against influenza of older people and prevention of infectious disease in health care settings.

The interventions are part of an action plan on healthy ageing for 2012–2016 that WHO/Europe is developing in consultation with Member States.

Spotlight on ageing in 2012

2012 marks the tenth anniversary of the United Nations’ Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. In addition, the European Union has designated this year the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, creating opportunities for cooperation and synergy.

For further information, contact:

Technical information:

Manfred Huber
Coordinator, Healthy Ageing, Disability and Long-term Care
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 61

Media enquiries:

Liuba Negru
External Relations Officer
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44, +45 20 45 92 74 (mobile)