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Value of health – too often ignored and forgotten by EU policy-makers?

Hedberg, A. (2014) “Value of health – too often ignored and forgotten by EU policy-makers?“, European Policy Centre (EPC) Publications, Commentary, 29 Σεπτεμβρίου.


Whether on national or European level, policy-makers tend to under-value health, healthy society, and healthy citizens in policy-making. As the European Commission continue to ponder how questions related to health should be reflected in EU policy-making and what role it should take, there are three issues to keep in mind: 1) there is a need to recognise health as a value, 2) health should be considered across policies, 3) the EU has the tools to promote a healthier European society.

Health as wealth

Healthier people are an asset for society and economy. They require less support from public budgets and healthcare systems, and they create a healthier, more productive society and labour force that can contribute to the economy for longer. There should be no question about it: Europe’s interest is to ensure that the value of health is recognised and supported across policies.

The economic impact of health improvement is felt also elsewhere. The health sector is a significant provider of employment. As an important user of new solutions ranging from medicines to medical devices, it encourages development, deployment and competition between new innovative solutions. Promoting health, preventing diseases and treating patients is a growing business, with a great potential in and outside the EU.

Delivering health requires understanding determinants for health

At the same time, new thinking is required on how to deliver health and make it the asset it could be. It is good to keep in mind that people’s health and well-being are affected by various factors, including life-style, genetic make-up, age, gender and population sub-group, level of education, environment from safe water to good working conditions, and access to health and other services that prevent and treat illnesses. Thus, there are also different ways to deliver health, and whilst health policy and provision of healthcare are Member States’ responsibility, the EU is not without a role.

Ensuring health in all policies…

As health is influenced by various factors from environment to urban planning, the EU must put greater emphasis on a cross-sectoral policy approach to health. In accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, the EU must ensure that policies that can influence Europeans’ health – including agricultural, transport, industrial, employment, environmental, taxation and regional development policies – promote health and healthier lifestyles. For example, transport, climate and industrial policies can advance healthier environments by encouraging a decrease in vehicle emissions. Moreover, financial instruments, including Structural Funds, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and EU-funded research should contribute to creating healthier European societies.


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