What is “health promotion”?
“Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) used these words in the Ottawa Charter of 1986 to define the concept of health promotion, marking a turning point that was historic in certain ways: we should stop considering health simply as a necessary condition for living and start seeing it as a resource to preserve and nurture in our everyday lives.
Today, 35 years later, the guidelines featured in this document continue to be a fundamental point of reference that is still extremely relevant for health promotion policies and initiatives.
These initiatives follow two main directions. One is more connected to lifestyle and it involves information and awareness campaigns or projects aimed at promoting healthy behaviors among individuals and groups of people. The other one acts on a more general level, involving political, social, economic, and environmental actors in supporting the development of the many prerequisites needed to ensure and promote health.
The objectives are clearly indicated in the Ottawa Charter and were later reinforced in 1997 with the Jakarta Declaration to “address the challenges of promoting health in the 21st century.” They target five main action areas:
Building public policy that promotes health.
Creating supportive environments for health.
Strengthening community action.
Developing personal skills.
Reorienting health services by focusing their attention on the individual.
But how can these objectives be achieved in practical terms? And what are the so-called determinant factors that affect our health the most, both positively and negatively?
The determinants of health
Some of the factors that affect our state of health cannot be changed, like age and genetics, which are in fact called “non-modifiable determinants.”
Nevertheless, there are many other determinants (actually the majority of them) that are easily affected by changes and corrections: for instance, people’s lifestyle, their home and work environments, but also their political, social, and economic contexts.
Health promotion initiatives should focus in particular on the latter factors, starting from everything related to personal well-being, both mental and physical. Its importance is emphasized in the very definition of health, which the WHO inserted in its Constitution: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Personal well-being stems above all from each individual’s lifestyle and habits with regard to factors like nutrition, physical activity, smoking, all the way to alcohol and drug abuse.
These are personal choices for which we are all individually responsible. Nonetheless, policies and social factors that foster health promotion can significantly impact people’s adoption of good behaviors.
A classic example of this is smoking and second-hand smoke. In 2003, Italy was one of the first European countries to adopt an anti-smoking law that banned smoking in all indoor public places, including private workplaces, stores, restaurants, gyms, and sports centers.
The result was a marked decline in tobacco consumption, especially in the years immediately after the law came into effect. But, above all, it considerably reduced the health risks for non-smokers, limiting their exposure to second-hand smoke to a minimum.
Our Group also pays attention to the challenge of promoting health, as shown by the various projects supported by Enel Cuore. Among these:
Women for Haiti, a project for the prevention and diagnosis of breast cancer in this Caribbean country, where this disease is one of the leading causes of death among women. The project, developed in collaboration with the Fondazione Francesca Rava, led to the creation of the first hospital ward dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer at the Saint Luc Hospital in Haiti.
- Itaca, a three-year project created by the Itaca foundation in 2019 to provide information on mental health disorders to high school students, teachers, and families. The objective in this case is to raise awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of mental distress, as well as ways to ask for and receive help.