EU Health in all Policies conference proposes deep integration of health across sectors
The high-level expert conference on Health in All Policies, organised under the Finnish Presidency of the EU and held in Kuopio ended after two days of deliberations, 21 September, with a range of proposals on key issues to do with mainstreaming health concerns across different policy sectors and at local, national and EU level.
Some 270 participants from across the EU attended the conference. They represented policy-makers, expert research and lobbying institutions and international organizations. The main question discussed in the conference was how to identify how health concerns and policy action can be better integrated into other policy areas.
Speaking at the closing of the conference, Markos Kyprianou , the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said that the event had rightly underlined the need for consistent policy-making on health. “The European Commission has an overarching aim to pursue an integrated approach to policy making – a ‘joined-up’ approach – which benefits the physical, social and financial health and wellbeing of European citizens."
“Health is related to many important Union strategies and policies, such as the Lisbon and sustainable development strategies," said Minister of Health and Social Services Liisa Hyssälä . “It would be especially useful to have information about the most crucial health impacts of these and other horizontal policies. There should be better attention paid to health effects in economic and trade policies." She stressed that all EU policies have impacts on health and that this must be taken better into account, as the treaty requires.
The conference discussed in particular health inequalities as a multisectoral challenge; diet, nutrition and physical activity in countering the epidemic of chronic diseases; alcohol policies and the need to balance macroeconomic impacts and the health harm of alcohol use; transport and environment and related health matters; and mental health and public policies.
Clive Needle , Director of the EuroHealthNet Liaison Office and rapporteur of the conference, outlined the main recommendations of the workshops and led a plenary discussion on the issues they cover. He said that the many ideas sketched by the conference background papers and in the preparatory work had been fleshed out by the workshops. The different workshop themes intersect closely but demand distinct and varying responses.
Many of the proposals on the different themes concern making better use of impact assessments, comparable data and information and generally enhancing intersectoral cooperation.
In the area of nutrition and physical activity, the problem is better documented. Workshop proposals on this covered the need to for such things as CAP reform to target consumption of healthier foods and for trade agreements to incorporate public health aspects. They also covered traffic policies, urban planning, communication and mass media, sports, health equity and the situation of population groups. The issue of transport and environment has a particular impact here but requires specific attention, for instance in the area of evidence-based policy making. The issue of mainstreaming, while relevant to all themes, was seen as having particular leverage in the area of mental health, where fragmented and non-comprehensive approaches have been a problem.
Overall, the multifarious recommendations of the conference make up a thorough overview of how health in all policies can advance. The conference identified clear hooks and triggers between health quality and improvement and the development and growth of the EU economy. It made clear that progress on this front to ensure that the two are mutually enhancing is crucial to the Union’s sustainable development.
The proposals raised at the conference will be drawn up for inclusion into the Presidency Conclusions presented to the next session of the Council in November. “Let’s not just leave it up to the Presidency to do this work," said Clive Needle, “but take the action proposals back to our own sectors." The challenge, he said, is to ensure the suggestions of the conference are taken up. “How can we now turn them into real action?"
In connection with the conference the Presidency has published the book ‘Health in all policies – Prospects and Potentials’, which is available from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.