Healthy Cities at the World Health Summit

Have you ever heard of what the Healthy Cities approach in the world of public health was? Take a look at this example from Stockholm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw

I attended the World Health Summit and the theme of healthy environments was discussed in length during those very exciting days for global health. Especially, on the last day of the Summit, on October 22nd, two consecutive keynote lectures took place having as themes ‘healthy ageing’ and ‘healthy cities’.

The first one, with remarkable panelists from all over the world, addressed physical activity and healthy ageing from an individual perspective, and involvement of the population to actually practice daily physical activity, while it seemed so little to have a role on the motivation of each and every citizen. The second session looked at how to approach the community targeting automatically the general population and that, if considered by local authorities and governments, could be definitely well applied. An example from Warsaw was presented and some brilliant ideas came up having health as the main purpose: sustainable infrastructure, building standards, public spaces, parks, safe and accessible public transportation, urban agriculture.

On the other hand, we had some controversial comments from the audience that pushed me to some reflection. The first one, an employer from ‘Coca Cola’ that was wondering “how the company could promote more physical Activity and healthy ageing”. That was the right opportunity to respond ‘perhaps by reducing sugar amount in your drinks?’. The second was about how people feel more concerned when the money issue is brought on the table. If, for example, we could offer free passes to a fitness club with some benefits to employees from a company, it would be increasing the rate of physical activity for those employees. I have to say that it might be efficient to target the needs of the citizens, but we should be aware of the ethical aspect as well.

“And it’s not always because you choose to eat too much, it’s not because you choose not to do particular things from a personal perspective, but it’s because of the availability of things in your community” – Audrey Smith, MPH, City of Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion Community Health Services

The backbone: Globalization & Industrialized Countries
Globalization and industrial revolution have dramatically changed life in modern cities. Pollution, noise, overcrowding, traffic, insufficient access to drinking water and sanitary facilities, crimes and violence and quickly spreading infectious diseases are just a few of many dangers that urban populations have to face. This is where the healthy cities movement tries to counteract this development and promotes comprehensive and systematic policy and planning for healthy in urban areas. It represents an essential element regarding prevention and health promotion. An unharmful place to life is a prerequisite for a healthy development of mind and body.

This movement is partly rooted in a growing literature, ongoing discussions and several evidence-based research, such as a Lancet Commission, which was published in 2012 “ Shaping Cities for Health: Complexity and the Planning of Urban Environments in the 21st Century” (May 2012).

Many experts and eminent researchers have started studying the issue in depth. For example, Ichiro Kawachi, Chair, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, from Harvard School of Public Health, was interested in ” examining neighborhood contextual influences on health outcomes, including the impacts of local food environment and built environment characteristics on physical activity, obesity, and other health-related behaviors (alcohol & tobacco consumption)”, as he recognizes the major influence of neighborhood on health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has followed the trend and in 2013, focused its publications on healthy cities. Dr Alaa Alwan, WHO Regional Director of EMRO, has summarized in this very well-done video the key mechanisms of developing healthy cities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqluZPlako8&list=PLUv2RPpy76nQJqYE8SQ-TawgRjx_CsBwj. There has also been a big campaign in a city in Russia that illustrates very well the concept of healthy cities. http://www.who.int/features/2013/russia_healthy_cities/en/

The process of creating healthier cities is a practical example of the effectiveness of partnerships between local governments involving different departments, residents, Non-Governmental Organizations, private sectors, community organizations, and academics. Every citizen can be, and should be, part of this movement.

Are you interested? Email scophd@ifmsa.org or your SCOPH Regional Assistant to find out how you can get involved.

Skander Essafi
IFMSA Director of the Standing Committee on Public Health (SCOPH)

This blog entry is part of a mini serie on students’ perspectives at the World Health Summit 2014 in Berlin. Look at the two previous posts, Medical Education at the World Health Summit and Global Health at the World Health Summit.

IFMSA Press Release, October 21st 2014: http://www.ifmsa.org/Media-center/Press-Room/IFMSA-at-World-Health-Summit#.VE4r3tq9KSM.

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