1 A call for collective actions
A hundred years ago, collective actions within public health work helped to curb the spread of infectious diseases. New collective actions are now required in order to curb the development of lifestyle-related illnesses.
Norway has experienced significant improvements in health and life expectancy. A century ago, voluntary organisations became involved in work with infection control, public baths, and health centres for mothers and children. Clean water and better housing were among the most important demands of the labour movement. Public health work over the past hundred years has been crucial in the fight against infectious diseases. Current public health work is crucial in the fight against non-infectious lifestyle-related illnesses.
Today, many people become ill as a result of an unhealthy diet, inactivity, and the use of tobacco and alcohol. More people are being placed on sick leave as a result of mental disorders. More people get diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These are not challenges that can be solved in hospitals or doctor’s offices, but are rather challenges that must be tackled through all sectors of society.
Now, health is not only the responsibility of municipal health care officers, but is the responsibility of all sectors, in line with effective public health strategies. Planning at municipal level must take public health into account when deciding how to use the municipality’s areas. If a hundred square metres of woodland close to a residential area which is home to many young children is allocated for industrial purposes, there will obviously be fewer trees for the children to climb and fewer caves for them to hide in. Transport and communications officers are not only responsible for motorists – they are also responsible for cyclists. Our most important arenas for public health work are not operating rooms and outpatient clinics – they are kindergartens and schools in which all children are recognised and given opportunities.
Work must be undertaken in all sectors of society, and actors that are extremely important to public health outcomes are found in both the voluntary and private sectors. Labour market actors serve both their organisations and their employees if they facilitate physical activity and a healthy diet in connection with work. Football teams can ensure that hungry young players receive smoothies and sandwiches instead of soft drinks and brownies during their tournaments. Retailers can offer healthy alternatives and make the approach to store checkouts something other than a narrow corridor of crisps and chocolate.
A hundred years ago, it was the poorest people in society who suffered most from various illnesses, and this is still true today. Public health work is therefore not only work to improve the health of the entire population – it is also work to reduce society’s inequalities. This is no small task, but we can accomplish much if we work together.
Welcome to our collective action!
Jonas Gahr Støre
Minister of Health and Care Services