Diet, physical activity and health

In Europe today, 6 of the 7 biggest risk factors for premature death – blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse – relate to how we eat, drink and move.

In April 2016 a conference was held on ‘Diet, Physical Activity and Health: a European Platform for Action‘.

Presentations included:

  • teaching children to be media-literate
  • responsible advertising
  • helping consumers make more informed food choices

To see all the presentations on the website

Global action on diabetes

The number of adults living with diabetes worldwide has almost quadrupled since 1980, to 422 million, according to the first WHO Global report on diabetes. An estimated 64 million people are now living with the disease in the WHO European Region.

The growing diabetes epidemic is strongly associated with increasing trends in overweight and obesity, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and socioeconomic disadvantage. Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease, and simple changes to one’s lifestyle can be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of the disease and its complications, which can include cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, loss of limbs and even loss of life.

To read the Global Report on Diabetes on the website

Road safety across Europe

The latest statistics (2015) on road safety across the EU have just been released and they show remarkable progress over the last decade.

The UK scores well in improving road safety for children and the elderly. Between 2004 and 2013, fatalities of children (under 15 years of age) in the UK have fallen by almost 75% and those of older people (aged over 64) by a third. Over the same ten year period, UK cyclist fatalities have decreased by a third and those amongst pedestrians by two fifths.

However, year-on-year there is a slowdown in reducing the number of fatalities Europe-wide. Ultimately, the EU has set itself the ambitious target to reduce by half the number of fatalities between 2010 and 2020.

For more information about road safety across Europe from the website

World happiness report 2016

This report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness, with experts from a variety of fields (including health and public policy) describing how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations.

This year Denmark is ranked at number 1, while the UK is sitting at number 23.

To read the World Happiness Report on the website.

Gender and socioeconomic impacts on young people’s health

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study  is updated every four years and since 2002 has shown that differences in reported life satisfaction between adolescents in western and eastern Europe have narrowed, with countries such as Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Russian Federation and Ukraine reporting significant increases in life satisfaction over the period.

Data collected for the study are based on surveys completed by thousands of adolescents, ensuring that their voices and concerns can be taken fully into account when WHO frames its European strategies, policies and actions for improving child and adolescent health and well-being. The latest HBSC report, which presents data from the 2013/2014 surveys, has a special focus on the effects of gender and socioeconomic differences on the way that young people grow and develop.

According to the HBSC International Coordinator: “The findings highlight large gender disparities in health, which emerge or worsen during the adolescent years. While girls are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables and brush their teeth than boys, they report more negative self-perceptions and poorer mental well-being. Boys are generally more physically active but also more likely to engage in risky behaviours. Differences across countries show the importance of understanding the role of gender norms and cultural expectations in influencing behaviour.

The HBSC data has been fed into the WHO report Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being which covers 42 countries in Europe and North America. The cross-national survey covers diverse aspects of adolescent health and social behaviour, including self-assessment of mental health; obesity and body image; dietary habits; engagement in physical activity; support from families and peers; tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use; and bullying.

To read the key findings from the 2013/14 HBSC study, on the website

To read Growing up unequal on the website


European strategy for women’s health

Just over half of the 900 million people living in the WHO European Region (463 million) are women and they are living longer than men. Their life expectancy is also increasing but these extra years (women’s “mortality advantage”) are not necessarily healthy years: on average, women spend 10 years in ill health.

The main causes of ill health and death among women differ across life stages and countries. Physical health conditions dominate in early life; depressive and anxiety disorders develop among young women moving into adult life; and lower back pain, ischaemic heart disease and cancers are more prevalent in older age.

Health inequities among women both within and between countries in the Region are large and unjustifiable. Equal access to health services has not been achieved for women living in rural areas, those from minority groups or those who are migrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

WHO/Europe is drawing on the evidence and experience of key experts in women’s health from national and local governments, academia, United Nations agencies, civil society and other partners to develop a European strategy for women’s health.

This strategy will focus on the determinants of women’s health, without necessarily comparing women with men. The aim is to inspire governments and stakeholders to work towards improving women’s and girls’ health and well-being beyond issues of reproductive, maternal and child health. The strategy will encourage taking action to reduce health inequities for women by, for example, eliminating discriminatory values, norms and practices; tackling the impact of gender and social, economic, cultural and environmental determinants; and improving health system responses to women’s health and well-being.

To read Beyond the mortality advantage:investigating women’s health in Europe on the website


Encouraging healthy food choices

An EU-wide conference on Food Product Improvement was held earlier this year in Amsterdam which brought together representatives from the food industry, retail and supermarkets, NGOs and the EU member states. In addition, the World Health Organisation and non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland also took part – making this event the first time these organisations had come together on such a large scale.

The conference approved a “Roadmap for Action”, which calls for combined action to make food products healthier by gradually reducing the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar (calories). This means a public-private partnership between experts from the member states and representatives of the food industry, patients’ associations and consumer organizations.

Several EU countries are already reducing salt, saturated fats and sugars in food products. This conference has paved the way for the Informal and Formal European Council meetings of the Ministers of Health later this spring where it is hoped to reach political agreement about implementation of the Roadmap.

To download the Roadmap for Action in English from the website

HIV prevention programmes

Quality Action, a Joint Action of European Union member states, aimed to promote the health of the community by maximising the quality of HIV prevention projects and programmes.

Its final conference earlier this year brought together more than 120 representatives from governmental and non-governmental organisations to share their experiences in applying five quality improvement tools. Over a three year period, Quality Action has trained more than 400 prevention experts in use of these tools and there has been more than 80 practical applications of the tools across Europe.

The Quality Action Charter for Quality in HIV Prevention also provides key principles for reinforcing the effectiveness of HIV prevention through quality improvement.

To find out more about Quality Action on their website

English children have low life satisfaction

According to Barnardo’s, an international survey of children’s well-being reveals the eight-year-olds in England are less happy than those in Romania, Poland and Algeria.

England ranks 13 out of 16 countries when it comes to children’s life satisfaction, with only South Korea, Nepal and Ethiopia faring worse.

More than 17,000 children from 16 countries were asked about their family and home life, friendships, money, personal well-being and overall happiness.

To read the full report Children’s Worlds on the

EU Commissioner for Health V Andriukaitis

Vyteris Andriukaitis made the following points in a speech recently:

The definition of health as proposed by the World Health Organization is: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Unfortunately for too long we have been focusing on care and cure, while most of the harm related to risk factors – alcohol, tobacco, salt, sugar, trans-fatty acids, physical inactivity, stress, air pollution and others – is preventable.

The risk factors shorten lives of our citizens, reduce our health resources, provoke chronic diseases and pressure our healthcare systems and our economies. Yet we forget that public health plays a central role in a vibrant social market economy. It is always underestimated, yet it is vital.

About 11% of the EU’s workforce is active in the health and social sector, most of whom – 8% – work in healthcare.

Public health is a prerequisite for economic growth – a healthy population is more productive – and the health sector is a key tool to support this.
The sector already amounts to up to almost one tenth of the EU’s economy yet it has huge potential to stimulate growth and investment, to generate innovation, new products, technologies, services and jobs.

To read more about Vyteris Andriukaitis on website