World Health Day 2012: Adding life to years

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) will mark World Health Day 2012 (7 April) with a campaign to promote healthy ageing as the proportion of older people continues to grow worldwide.

β€œIt's important that we see old age not as a time of inevitable decline but as one of active, meaningful and productive living," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "The rapid ageing of the world's population has no precedent.

"The implications for health policy are enormous," explains Dr Shin. "Fortunately, how we age depends to a large degree on how we behave. By watching what we eat, being physically active and avoiding exposure to tobacco and the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, we can add both years to our life and life to our years."

Over the past century, life expectancies have increased significantly due largely to improvements in public health. People are living longer as birth rates have declined in many parts of the world. Also, people 65 and older will outnumber children under five within the next five years; by 2050 these older adults will outnumber children under 14.

Low- and middle-income countries β€” home to three out of four people in the world β€” are expected to see dramatic changes. For example, while it took more than 100 years for France's population aged 65 and older to double, China's over 65-year old population will double in less than 25 years. By 2050, the proportion of the world's population aged 60 and older is expected to rise to 22%, up from 11% in 2000.

"We should rejoice at humankind's growing longevity," Dr Shin says. "At the same time, we should prepare our health and social systems for the coming demographic transformation.

"If we don't prepare, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the rise in the number of people with long-term disabilities and needing care for such diseases as stroke, diabetes and cancer."

Dr Shin emphasizes the need to dispel negative and inaccurate stereotypes of older people as frail, forgetful or incapable. Such stereotyping often discourages them from participating in social, political, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic life, despite the many skills and experiences that they have to offer.

He calls on the 37 countries, areas and territories in the WHO Western Pacific Region to raise awareness about what people can do to age healthfully and well.

"On this World Health Day and every day, we must recognize the contributions of older persons," Dr Shin says. "We must work together to promote healthy and active ageing."

For more information, please contact:

Anjana Bhushan
Technical Officer
Division for Health Sector Development
Tel: +63 2 528 9814
Fax: +63 2 528 9072

Timothy O'Leary
Public Information Officer
Tel: +63 2 528 9992
Fax: +63 2 528 9069