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European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), A Record-Breaking Event

The Eighth European Health Forum Gastein, staged this year from October 5 through 8, was a complete success. Attendance increased by a good 20 percent over the year before, climbing to some 630 participants from 61 countries. Now well-established as the EU’s most important professional conference in the health care field, the conference attracted 20 ministers and assistant secretaries plus the EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and experts from politics, public administration, medicine and science, and from pharmaceutical and medical technology companies. Discussions revolved around a number of important topics in health promotion and disease prevention. For instance, one key topic of this year’s conference was how to motivate people to assume more personal responsibility. According to experts, health information plays a major part in the efforts to give Europe's citizens healthy choices in their daily lives. However, improving health competency is even more crucial: "Health competency is the ability to make decisions in daily life that have a positive effect on health," explained health policy expert Dr. Ilona Kickbusch. "This competency has dramatic ramifications for the individual and enables him to improve his quality of life. But it is also an essential economic factor. Most health related decisions today are made for citizens instead of being made in collaboration with citizens."

Another conclusion drawn from the deliberations in Gastein: Correct nutrition is something people learn, or do not learn, in their childhood. "An awareness of health and nutrition has to be an integral part of the way children are brought up," explained Erik Harms, head of the German exercise and nutrition program entitled "Plattform Ernährung und Bewegung". "That is why health has to be taught jointly with other socialization steps." The food industry plays a problematic role in this regard, especially when it comes to food advertising aimed at children. "The food culture promoted by the food industry is diametrically opposed to what is desirable from a health perspective and to what has long been advocated by all experts," explained the authors of a British study on how advertising influences children’s eating habits.

Migrants’ health was another important topic at the conference: Poor social standing, a lower than average income, a higher percentage of people in occupations detrimental to health and not least, a lack of health awareness are the factors that shape the health of this group of the population. "Migrants and members of ethnic minorities fall ill with disproportionate frequency," noted Istvan Szilard from the International Organization for Migration. A further problem is that these people often lack access to health information and services owing to bureaucratic or linguistic barriers.

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