January 31, 2014 | Friday

Europe is health

Citizens’ health is and shall be a core EU priority. EU health policy complements national policies to ensure that everyone living in the EU has access to quality healthcare. Some of the major objectives of the EU health policy relate to preventing diseases, promotion of healthier lifestyles, promotion of wellbeing, protection of people from serious cross-border threats to health, improve access to healthcare, promote health information and education, improve patient safety, support dynamic health systems and new technologies as well as ensure high quality, safety and efficacy for medicinal products and devices for medical use, etc.

The crucial role of health and healthcare is envisaged also as part of the Europe 2020 policy framework. This framework enables the link between European health policies and health system reforms in the European context. Investing in health helps the EU rise to the challenges identified in its Health Strategy following the first wave of economic crisis: an ageing population, an increase in chronic diseases, a greater demand for healthcare and the high cost of technological progress.

The scope for EU action in health policy is clearly stipulated in Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The Treaty also makes clear that the EU shall fully respect the responsibility of individual Member States to define their health policies, organise and deliver their health services and medical care, including any resources assigned to them.

There are indications that average levels of health have been improving across the EU for many years. But this hides major inequalities. Poorer and disadvantaged people die younger and suffer more often from disability and disease. Thus, EU has further developed its health investments directing them particularly in the following sections:

  1. Investing in sustainable health systems combines innovative reforms aimed at improving cost-efficiency and reconciling fiscal consolidation targets with the continued provision of sufficient levels of public services.
  2. Investing in people’s health as human capital helps improve the health of the population in general and reinforces employability, thus making active employment policies more effective, helping to secure adequate livelihoods and contributing to growth.
  3. Investing in reducing health inequalities contributes to social cohesion and breaks the vicious spiral of poor health contributing to, and resulting from, poverty and exclusion.
  4. Investing in health through adequate support from EU funds.

Finally, the EU’s health programme and the research framework programme supports a number of projects to reduce and prevent obesity. It is estimated that over 200 million adults are overweight or obese in the EU — over half of the adult population. One in four children are also overweight or obese. Obesity leads to serious physical and mental health problems including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and psychological disorders. Other efforts include the introduction of EU-wide rules for food labelling, which means that consumers in all EU countries can rely on food labels to give them accurate information on health and nutritional values.

Increasing access to information is a vital part of the EU’s efforts to promote good health and tackle health inequalities. The ‘Public health’ website of the European Commission highlights the work of the European Commission in the area of public health as well as provides us with press material, legal documents, videos, information on events, statistics and news on health in Europe.