How are Cohesion Policy and Structural Fund investments linked to health?

The determinants of health is a concept used to describe what influences our health status and general wellbeing.

Starting with the individual, they include characteristics outside our control such as age, sex and genetic factors. Our behaviours also play an important role, for example whether we smoke, how much we drink, what type of food we eat and how much physical activity we take. Beyond the individual, the general socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions that we experience are part of the determinants of health.

This visual representation of health determinants shows that there many opportunities for action to improve health and to reduce inequalities (Dahlgren et al., 1991).

Determinants of health include individual characteristics about which you can do nothing such as age, sex and genetic factors. They also include lifestyle habits such as how much physical activity we take, the kind of food that we eat and go right up to general socioeconomic, cultural and environmental conditions that span across society

Most of these factors are outside the health and social care sector, which means that other policies need to be engaged to enhance wellbeing. At EU level, the Solidarity in Health: Reducing Health Inequalities in the EU’ (European Commission, 2009) notes that Cohesion Policy can be used to improve the determinants of health, listed as: living conditions; training and employment services; transport; technologies; and health and social care infrastructure.

The page on funding themes of the Structural Funds show how investments in these priority areas affect both our physical and our mental health. It therefore makes sense for Cohesion Policy and Structural Fund investments to identify, to measure and to track their results and to link this to population health outcomes. Indeed, Ministers of Health and of the Environment have recently restated the importance of joint work across these areas (World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2010).

In the page on health indicators we provide some advice about identifying, measuring and tracking the effects of Structural Fund Investments on health.

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