The most important news about health equity, wellbeing, and their determinants.

Health Highlights
 

Welcome to Health Highlights, EuroHealthNet's monthly newsletter. We bring you the most important news and information about health equity, wellbeing, and their determinants.  

 

Health Headlines

Supporting mental health at work: “not just a matter of solidarity, but above all of health” 
Belgian Presidency calls for better EU regulations to prevent psychosocial risks at work

On 30-31 January, the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU organised a high-level exchange on mental health and work, placing the needs for a healthy workforce on the radar for the next EU mandate. The conference focused on the prevention of psychosocial risks, stress and burnout at work, as well as creating an inclusive labour market for people with mental health conditions. The Presidency called for binding rules on prevention to create better working environments. In June 2024, Belgium will host a peer-review to explore the potential of such EU Directive on psychosocial risks at work. 

EuroHealthNet chaired a session, applauding the importance given to public health, equity, social investments, and multisectoral collaboration. 

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan – a bitter-sweet state of play
Updates on vaccine-preventable cancers, cancer inequalities, and smoke-free environments

Taking stock of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the European Commission organised a conference on 31 January, also publishing its recommendations on vaccine-preventable cancers. The Commission and OECD also launched an analytical report on cancer inequalities in Europe. With over 40% of the cancer burden being linked to metabolic risk and poor environments, the report highlights the need for more robust prevention policies. 

However, the release of the Council recommendation on smoke-free environments has been postponed. Other legislative files on tobacco and alcohol taxation and health labels are similarly delayed, adding to the legislative pressure before the end of the current Commission term this year. 

Parliament and Council agree on stricter air pollution limits for 2030 
New Directive recognises impact on vulnerable groups, but fails to fully align with WHO guidelines

The renewed EU Directive on ambient air quality and clean air will force EU countries to take stronger measures to reduce air pollution by 2030. Member States that struggle to adopt the new measures, however, will be able to apply for a 10-year extension upon credible justification of their inability. The new Directive also gives citizens the right to take their governments to court for inaction and claim compensation for health damages. 

The Directive calls for targeted and adapted action that supports groups at risk of energy poverty. While the new air quality standards are closer to WHO guidelines, they do not fully align, even though a 10-year delay to air quality rules could cost an additional 327,600 lives.

A High-Level EU Conference on the health impacts of climate change provided input for a forward-looking research agenda robust enough for evidence-based adaptation and mitigation action and policies. Discussions showed that climate change impacts physical as well as mental health. EuroHealthNet's contribution focussed on how we can translate research into action through effective advocacy and mobilise community action.

Concerns about EU budget cuts for health, cohesion and research  
Reduced EU funding runs the risk of limiting implementation of EU health and social political priorities.

The recent decision by the EU countries to redirect funds to the Ukraine Facility will result in a 20% budget cut from the EU health programme, with additional reallocation from the cohesion and research funds. EuroHealthNet and the European Social Platform stressed that while it is important to support Ukraine, investments in cohesion and health equity should nonetheless be sustained, as the foundations for societal wellbeing. 

The EU4Health Civil Society Alliance sent a letter to the Belgian Presidency questioning both the impact and timing of these cuts for health.

 

EuroHealthNet Partnership

EuroHealthNet announces new President ahead of 2024 EU institutional renewal

EuroHealthNet elected a new President, Suzanne Costello, the Chief Executive of the Institute of Public Health in Ireland. The EuroHealthNet Partnership also met for its annual Policy and Strategy Meeting, to discuss how to strategically harness upcoming opportunities to advance public health and health equity within the context of the EU institutional renewal. 

Education saves lives – having had no schooling poses as much of a risk as smoking 10 cigarettes a day

“Mortality risk drops by two per cent with every additional year of education.” This was the main finding from one of the largest studies of its kind, led by the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research (CHAIN) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and supported by EuroHealthNet. Find the study and factsheet here.

EuroHealthNet leads on a call for renewed focus on wellbeing in schools

As leader of the EU-funded Schools4Health initiative, EuroHealthNet organised a policy seminar under the auspices of the Belgian Presidency of the EU to discuss new approaches which put health and wellbeing at the centre of schools. Among the key outputs, the seminar spotlighted the shared responsibility of policy makers, practitioners and the broader community in creating healthier school environments. 

EuroHealthNet responds to EU consultations: Read all our consultations here.  


Ongoing consultations
EuroHealthNet Members join largest European initiative to prevent noncommunicable diseases

Under the leadership of Norway, the Joint Action PreventNCD brings together 25 countries to improve their policy and implementation capacities in reducing the burden of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases. Through these efforts, the Joint Action will address the underlying health determinants and common risk factors, including those of commercial nature and amendable by (EU) law.

Public Health France finds shifts in alcohol use, while Public Health Scotland welcomes continuation of prevention measures

Findings show contrasting trends for episodic heavy drinking in France, signalling the need for better preventive measures to reduce alcohol consumption.

On this topic, Public Health Scotland welcomes plans by the Scottish Government to continue minimum pricing per unit of alcohol beyond April 2024 and reviewing prices to sustain its effectiveness. 

Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs of Andalusia publishes strategy for health promotion, launches Schools4Health in five educational centres

The strategy sets the tone for more comprehensive efforts in prevention across sectors, focusing on healthier lifestyles, vaccination, and emotional wellbeing. Separately, the Regional Ministry launched the Schools4Health initiative in five schools to promote healthy snacks during recess in a comfortable and friendly environment for students, embedding the wider health promoting school approach. 

More news from the Partnership
 

News from the Institutions

In remembrance of John Ryan - former DG SANTE Deputy Director General, a true public health champion and a dear friend of the EuroHealthNet partnership. John’s legacy within our community spans an incredible 25 years, during which he tirelessly worked on advancing EU public health policies, leaving a significant mark on our collective pursuit for better health for all. 

Cohesion policy: a genuine instrument to embed solidarity and fairness

EU Ministers gathered to discuss guidelines on the future of EU cohesion policy post-2027. The discussion coincided with the release of a high-level report that offers recommendations to ensure the cohesion policy promotes prosperity and convergence, recognising its potential for social wellbeing. While increasingly integrated into the EU governance framework, cohesion policies remain crucial in advancing EU economic and social goals. 

The future of EU agriculture and food systems

Replacing the long-awaited EU law for healthy and sustainable food systems, the Commission has pivoted towards a soft approach, launching strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture with stakeholders to discuss related issues in the first half of 2024.

Despite this, a separate study by the European Parliament on the EU Farm to Fork strategy highlights delays in sustainable food systems, food labelling, nutrient profiles, promotion policies, and EU school schemes.

Creating a more resilience health and care workforce – ‘the time to act is now’

Representatives from WHO/Europe, trade unions, and the health workforce convened to discuss how to improve working conditions for healthcare professionals. Such efforts also align with the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the EU to create a future health workforce strategy and to place social dialogue with professionals at the centre of solutions to labour and skills shortages. 

WHO launches framework for monitoring social determinants

The framework provides countries with harmonised guidance for monitoring social determinants, using data for action to improve health equity through cross-cutting approaches. It sets out a list of universal indicators which can be adapted to different settings, together with areas and actions for implementation. The framework was published ahead of the release of the World report on the social determinants of health equity, which will be submitted to the 2024 World Health Assembly.

Dr Pamela Rendi-Wagner nominated Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

EuroHealthNet congratulates Dr Pamela Rendi-Wagner for her nomination to be the next Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) for a five-year period (2024-2029). Before her appointment, Dr Pamela Rendi-Wagner will be invited to make a statement before the European Parliament and to answer the questions of its Members. 

 
What we are reading...
 
Alcohol and brain health Brain health benefits from avoiding alcohol. This applies both to occasional drinking as well as to intensive or regular consumption over time. Alcohol policy measures are required to reduce alcohol’s contribution to neurological, cognitive and mental health problems at the population level - Alcohol and the Brain

Child poverty A new International Horizon Scanning and Learning Report reviews solution-based actions to reduce the impact of poverty on babies, children and young people - WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being

Child wellbeing UNICEF’s report on the state of children in the EU analyses key trends and policy actions of the current EU legislature, highlighting that the next political cycle should strengthen children’s rights, and improve investments, governance structures and the evidence base. 

Climate change An OECD paper explores how educational approaches can be redefined within the context of climate change. It focuses on strategies to restructure the curriculum, place-based approaches and policies to boost educational resilience. 

EU funds A summary report on the role of European structural and investment funds highlights its support provided to 64.5 million people in finding employment or gaining skills, and improving health services for over 63 million people – European Commission

EU Health priorities Poland prepares its health priorities in the run up to the Polish EU Council Presidency in 2025, with a key focus on the digital transformation of healthcare, prevention and the healthcare challenges faced within our changing demographics - Euractiv

Financial protection Ensuring financial protection is core to universal health coverage. Out-of-pocket payments for healthcare lead to financial hardship and unmet needs – The Lancet Regional Health

Food affordability People with lower incomes tend to spend a higher proportion of their household budget on food and beverages. 8.3% of households in the EU were found to be unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish or vegetables - Eurostat

Food policies In a first initiative of its kind, WHO evaluated the progress of three EU countries - Denmark, Lithuania and Poland - in implementing effective policy practices to eliminate industrially produced trans-fatty acids from food.
 
Health workforce Major steps must be taken at all levels to address the larger challenges faced by the health workforce, including poor working conditions and the risk of mental health issues - Euractiv

Mental health WHO explores guiding principles for developmentally-appropriate online mental health content for young people aged 13-17 years. 

Mental health A cross-sectional analysis demonstrates gender-related inequalities in mental health support in England. Better health system inclusivity and professional training are needed, together with improvements in the social and legal environment to better support transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse people – The Lancet Public Health

Physical activity Interventions using game-based physical education have shown to provide beneficial outcomes in terms of improving the enjoyment experienced by children and adolescents – BMC Public Health

Public health workforce Efforts to professionalise the public health workforce are to-date fragmented; it is important to engage policymakers and stakeholders to prioritise necessary investments – European Journal of Public Health

Public health workforce The public health workforce needs to be equipped with the necessary capacities to provide health services. Training needs assessments can help assess and understand such capacities - European Journal of Public Health

Tobacco use WHO reports global trends in prevalence of tobacco use between 2000-2030, noting that the extent of national efforts to adopt a whole-of-government approach to tobacco control play an important role.  
 

Events

Full calendar of events
 

In case you missed it...

  • WHO webinar ‘Commercial Determinants of Health: Policy, Accountability and Trust: Governing the Commercial Determinants of Health’ – 23 January 2024 (Recording available here)
     
  • European Commission event ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: Joining Forces’ – 31 January 2024 (Recording available here)
     
  • EuroHealthNet seminar ‘Schools4Health: Innovating health and education’ – 31 January (Recording available here)
 
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EuroHealthNet is co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of EuroHealthNet only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

 

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