Indispensable health promotion

24.2.2010 12.54
News item N5-54120
Finland's policy programme for health promotion is timelier than ever, according to programme manager Maija Perho. "We must be able to ward off the effects of unemployment and economic insecurity. Obesity due to unhealthy lifestyles starting in childhood, the deterioration in the health of young men and alcohol problems are mounting up. We've got to reduce the burden of social problems and lifestyle diseases. If municipalities cut remaining health promotion budgets, the burden of remedial treatment will increase uncontrollably."

The policy programme for health promotion being implemented by the government aims to ensure that municipalities agree on health and well-being promotion targets and to check that they are realised.

The policy programme introduces and enhances health promotion issues throughout many areas of life, including in built-up residential, school and urban environments, child and school health care and occupational health care, and in general community development and recreation. In specific areas of health care, the policy programme aims for healthier lifestyles among the population, less obesity, more exercise, healthier diets, no smoking and only moderate alcohol use.

The motto of the policy programme is ‘Health in all Policies', which underscores that a health perspective needs to be present in all societal decision-making. This is particularly necessary in light of the impact of the economic recession.

"It's unlikely that it'll be possible to greatly increase the numbers of people providing instruction on healthy living, but it is possible to adopt and be versed in a health promotion perspective. We could create the conditions and environment that promote the health of the entire population", says Perho.

She stresses that it is important that municipal leaderships ensure that health promotion and prevention strategies feature strongly in their municipal strategies and their action and financial planning.

Perho also points out that one effect of the structural reforms to municipalities and the creation of cooperation regions for municipalities may be to undermine health promotion. Attention must be given to how the new arrangements will include health promotion in the collaborative work of municipalities concerning schools, sports and recreation and urban planning.

Health promotion has featured in numerous social policy areas over the years. The aim of the policy programme is to target resources into expanding proven good practices and increasing awareness about them.

The programme networks with several non-governmental organizations to fund the dissemination of models developed by them and to provide training for people in health promotion-related fields. For instance, there is a project on promoting healthy arteries for everyone that involves the Finnish Heart Association, the Finnish Diabetics Association and the Finnish Stroke and Dysphasia Association.

Perho says that the local authority budgets for 2011 will show whether municipalities have managed to understand the importance of health promotion. For example, the city of Kuopio, in east Finland, has retained its health promotion budget despite facing a severe financial crisis.

A survey of municipalities being carried out by the National Institute for Health and Welfare will measure how well health promotion thinking has become rooted in municipal practice. The survey will reveal whether municipalities conduct health promotion systematically, how it has been incorporated into municipal strategies, whether municipalities monitor well-being indicators and whether they have adopted well-being reporting practices.

"It should be possible to work out from the follow-up information what issues should be tackled in municipalities. With the right indicators we hope to be able to show the impacts of preventive measures on people's well-being."

The policy programme on health promotion comes to an end in a year. Perho thinks that health promotion will remain a central part of the MSAH's strategy and that it will be incorporated into the work of the National Development Programme for Social Welfare and Health Care. She says that the Innokylä-project is also a potentially important source of information on health promotion themes, good practices and functional models.

"If the next government features health promotion in its programme, I hope that it will continue with the work to inculcate good practices and go further into the different areas of health promotion. One such area is early support and intervention concerning children, youth and their parents."

Merja Moilanen
Translated Mark Waller