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Urban policy-makers urge to sharpen focus on health issues  

European Committee of the Regions presses for all urban-related policies to consider health implications

Cities will play an important role in promoting good health in the because of increasing urbanisation. European cities are amongst the best places in the world to live and are known for their competitiveness, innovation and quality of life. Simultaneously in the urban context the rates of chronic and non-communicable diseases is on the rise due to not only genetic, physiological but also environmental and unhealthy lifestyle factors. The European Committee of the Regions highlights the critical importance of European cities in improving public health during Plenary Session on 11 May.

Regional and local politicians call for more comprehensive and sustained attention to health issues in urban-related policies such as transport, environment, and energy as more than 72% of all Europeans live in cities and this percentage is expected to rise to 80% by 2050.

Roberto Pella (IT/EPP), Rapporteur of the opinion on Health in cities adopted on 11 May, said that "thinking globally and acting locally is the correct approach to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in facing the emerging challenges from health issues. Local and regional authorities are the key players in creating a network of institutions, businesses, NGOs and citizens that can create a shared and fair urban cooperation for improved health in cities as a common good. We should also aim for a specific partnership dedicated to health, to be launched under the Urban Agenda for the European Union."

Vytenis Andriukaitis , Commissioner for Health and Food Safety commented on the issue: "I never tire repeating this old adage 'prevention is better than cure'. Health and lifestyle equipment such as pedestrian zones and cycle paths or food procurement schemes for schools and healthier canteens are often in the hands of the municipalities and regions. Also, it is in our regions that we are particularly well situated to address health inequalities by reaching out to young mothers, women on lower incomes, ethnic minorities and the elderly. Locally developed projects can make real difference involving community actors such as social workers, midwives, chefs, charities and hopefully more and more businesses bringing about real, sustainable change."

Critically, the opinion "Health in cities" argues that EU approaches to transport and urban issues should pay more attention to small and medium-sized towns and cities, which are home to over half the EU's population. The rapporteur, Roberto Pella (IT/EPP), is himself mayor of a small town, Valdengo in Italy's Piedmont region. Greater integration of health concerns across policy areas would cut mortality rates, reduce pollution, lower the costs of physical inactivity (estimated at more than €80 billion annually), ease the integration of migrants, and help the elderly, the opinion suggests.

As an extra incentive for action, the opinion recommends that investments "in promoting and implementing healthy lifestyles" should be exempt from the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. Mr Pella urges local and regional authorities to make greater use of opportunities already offered by the EU – to secure funding, improve planning, raise awareness, and engage the public – and calls for the EU's decision-makers to increase the budget of the LIFE programme, through which the EU helps countries, regions and cities develop green infrastructure, protect nature, and support education. Among the other ways in which the EU could help regions and cities improve health, the opinion highlights the value of studies (of the impact of pollution and a lack of exercise) and greater integration of regions and cities into EU and UN initiatives.

The CoR's Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) and the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region organised a seminar on health in cities in Brussels on 10 May chaired by Roberto Pella. The aim of the meeting was to bring together the wealth of knowledge of the United Nations' WHO, four European Commission directorates general (Environment, Education and Culture, Mobility and Transport, and Regional and Urban Policy), and high-level municipal representatives so as to explore the synergies between health, sport and education, environment, climate change, mobility and other urban policies. The event offered opportunities to reflect on how European, national and local policy-making can make a positive impact on European citizens' health outcomes. 

Notes for editors:

1/ The European Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. Created in 1994, its mission is to involve regional and local authorities in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. Its 350 members and 350 alternates either hold an electoral mandate or are politically accountable to an elected assembly in their home regions and cities. Click here for more details on your national delegation.

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