Linking health promotion with sustainable development

EuroHealthNet aims to always work in an innovative manner, in partnership with other stakeholders and by pursuing ‘health in all policy’ approaches. In this way, we aim- to take health promotion a step further and link- it with new and emerging developments. For example, EuroHealthNet took part in SPREAD 2050, an FP7 consortium combining sustainable development, lifestyle changes and wellbeing.

By Caroline Costongs

We have to change our lifestyles quite drastically in order to remain within the planetary limits of our natural resources. How can we do that? How can we make our lifestyles more sustainable and healthy at the same time? Societal changes require political leadership as well as collective actions and responsive citizens. This will only happen if bottom up and top down approaches come together. In SPREAD 2050 we identified four enablers for sustainable and healthy lifestyles: (1) policy and governance, (2) economy and monetary system, (3) social and technological innovation, and (4) behaviour change.

The progress of our economies is currently measured in terms of levels of production and consumption, and our aspirations are intrinsically linked to patterns of economic growth; in particular now in times of economic crisis. Recent studies have shown though that economic growth up to a certain GDP threshold leads to improvements in people’s lives. But once that threshold is passed, there is evidence that economic growth and subjective well-being are no longer linked.

It is a good time now to explore alternative economic models that take into consideration the limited natural resources, environment, quality of life and health equity. The promising practices identified in SPREAD 2050 demonstrate that there are positive trends and solutions, related to complementary currencies, new approaches and business models and new ways of working. The Time Bank in Helsinki for example, where services (e.g. babysitting, cooking) are exchanged on the basis of time credits rather than cash, is an effective model that also increases social capital and involves unemployed and/or older people in society which in turn benefits health and wellbeing.

Health promotion professionals and decision makers should work more closely with sustainable development stakeholders. Reducing the use of private cars and promoting physical activity is an obvious win-win. “Green and sustainability” marketing is a growing field. The influence of the media on lifestyles is huge. We should link up better with these opportunities. There are also common challenges to tackle. Relevant actors, such as policy makers, consumer groups, media companies and industry itself should regulate issues like false ‘green’ claims on products (“green washing”), just like false ‘health’ claims, and the confusingly high number of eco and other sustainability labels.

bykes2Lifestyles and behaviour are determined by a complexity of factors and conditions such as people’s emotions, norms, values and beliefs, as well as their living and working conditions. We also know that behaviour change cannot be achieved without also addressing underlying socio-economic factors. In addition, sustainable and healthy lifestyles must become the easy and attractive default choice. It is important to consider how to adapt macro-economic policies as well as societal infrastructures to make that shift towards sustainable and healthy lifestyles by 2050. Multifaceted approaches are needed from information campaigns to legal frameworks including taxation, subsidies and other financial incentives.

We urge health, sustainable development and climate change policy sectors to join forces and adopt common approaches. Health promotion and public health decision-makers and professionals must also:

  • Look ahead and anticipate how societies may develop in the future and aim to change the prevailing emphasis on short term visions and solutions by emphasizing the long-term impacts of current lifestyles;
  • Provide strong arguments and timely evidence to a large panel of actors and stakeholders, including business and industry, of these long-term impacts and possible solutions;
  • Highlight the social equity – and health impacts of emerging ‘green’ solutions;
  • Work out the ‘trade offs’, not all sustainable lifestyles are healthy lifestyles;
  • Recognise and foster promising practice and movements and find ways to scale them up;
  • Develop new and innovative mechanisms, tools, and methodologies and build capacities to enable sustainable change and alternatives that will preserve the environment as well as improve health and well-being for all.

spreadEuroHealthNet was involved in the SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 project. This project represented a new type of research being tested by the European Commission under the FP7 Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities programme. SPREAD 2050 developed the knowledge base on sustainable lifestyles in the area of living, moving and consuming. Health, well-being and social equity have been integrated as cross-cutting themes by EuroHealthNet. Stakeholders from business, research, policy and civil society and from different sectors (such as health, transport, housing, urban planning and economics) collaborated to design future scenarios, as well as a research agenda and a roadmap for sustainable living in 2050.


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