Interview – Pekka Puska on Finnish EU Presidency health priorities

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Professor Pekka Puska, the Director-General of the Finnish National Public Health Institute / Ministry of Social Affairs & Health says that health in all policies and health of workers will be the two main health themes of the upcoming Finnish EU presidency.

What are the Finnish EU Presidency health priorities? 

Our main health priority is “Health in all policies”. We also wish to reduce health inequalities (people in lower socio-economic situation face more risk factors and have worse health situation). “Health in all policies” is the general and the main health topic, but there is also another topic the Ministry of Health is planning together with the Ministry of Labour – health of workers. All over Europe the share of working age population is shrinking and at the same time there is a lot of disability and absenteeism. So, the health of workers and of the working force is crucial for socio-economic development. It is linked both to mental and physical health. 

What are the Finnish EU Presidency’s main health policy events?

There will be a ministerial conference on the health of the working population in Finland in July. A high level expert meeting on “Health in all policies” will take place in Finland in September. Before this conference, at the end of August, we will publish a large background report to serve as a basis for discussions and afterwards the Presidency will prepare conclusions for the health council. 

Does the Finnish Presidency have any special health message?

We would like our slogan “Health in all policies” to be a continuous slogan for the upcoming other Presidencies. This concept is, actually, already part of the new EU public health programme, which states that health relates to different policies. What is being decided, for example, in agricultural policy or transportation, all have health implications. We hope this all-embracing aspect will become stronger in the EU and the Commission’s work. 

It also relates to the concept of health impact assessment. Environmental impact assessment of many policies is already in place in various EU countries. When something big is being decided, environmental impact assessment needs to be conducted. We hope that, in the future, when major decisions are taken, health impact of these decisions will be assessed. 

The recent Alcohol in Europe report recommends that containers of alcoholic products should carry health warnings. What do you think of this type of recommendations? 

We support them fully. The Finnish Minister of Health and Social Services, Liisa Hyssälä, has already proposed these measures to the government. The Finnish government discussed the alcohol problem in March 2006 and agreed on introduction of health warnings on alcohol products. 

We do, indeed, see alcohol as a major issue. The consumption and the problems have increased. We want both the EU and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to do more on alcohol at international level. It is a question of buying and advertising and what happens in one country affects the others. So we hope, definitely, that the EU and the Commission would do more in the alcohol field.

On Professor Puska’s presentation on Finnish priorities for fighting obesity at the annual obesity conference, see EURACTIV 7 June 2006.

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