Every year, World Health Day is celebrated on 7 April to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. World Health Day is a global campaign, inviting everyone – from global leaders to the public in all countries – to focus on a single health challenge with global impact. World Health Day provides an opportunity to start or enhance collective action to protect people's health and well-being. The subject for World Health Day 2012 is "Healthy Ageing and the theme is "Good health adds life to years". It focuses on how good health throughout life can help older men and women to lead full, productive lives and be a valued resource for their families and communities.
One of the biggest social transformations is population ageing. Globally, the number of people aged 60 years and over has doubled since 1980 and within the next five years, the number of adults aged 65 years and over will outnumber children under the age of 5 years old. Guyana is no exception, and the proportions of the 65 and older age group grew by 5.7% over the period 1980-2002, according to Census data.
In the 21th century, family patterns are changing and technology is evolving rapidly. Past images of older persons’ frailty and dependence are being replaced with images of their vitality, strength, wisdom, and independence. Healthy older persons continue to work, volunteer, and travel, and display interest in their health and that of their future generations.
Traditionally, the older people we love or know well are valued and respected. But our attitudes to other older people within the broader community can sometimes be considered indifferent. In many traditional societies, older people are respected as "elders", but in other societies, older women and men may be less respected. This marginalization can be structural, for example in societies where retirement age is enforced, or informal, where older people are viewed as less energetic and valuable to a potential employer. These attitudes are examples of "ageism" — the stereotyping of, and discrimination against, individuals or groups because of their age.
Ageism can serve as a social divider between young and old and these stereotypes can prevent older men and women from fully participating in social, political, economic, cultural, spiritual, civic, and other activities. We can escape this vicious cycle by breaking down stereotypes and changing any negative attitudes we may have about older people.
Healthy ageing is linked to health in the early stages of life. For example, under-nutrition in the womb may increase the risk of the onset of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in adult life. Respiratory infections in childhood may increase the risk of chronic bronchitis in adult life. Obese or overweight adolescents are at risk for developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, circulatory diseases, cancer, and respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders in adult life.
The quality of life enjoyed while ageing is also influenced by many factors such as the foods we eat, our level of physical activity, and our exposure to health risks such as those caused by tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, and exposure to toxic substances.
On this World Health Day 2012, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle across the life-course to save lives, protect health, and prevent or alleviate disability and pain in older age. Age-friendly environments, prevention interventions, early detection and treatment of disease, and rehabilitation and palliative care where necessary are all important in improving the health and wellbeing of older people.
It is critical that we maintain our physical, mental, and social well-being to stay healthy and independent as we age. Beyond our efforts to add years to life, we must add life to years – good health is key!
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