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World Health Day Focuses on Older People

People take part in a mass exercise session in the central square of Russia's southern city of Stavropol, April 6, 2012, to celebrate World Health Day.
People take part in a mass exercise session in the central square of Russia's southern city of Stavropol, April 6, 2012, to celebrate World Health Day.

The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to make sure all people reach old age in the best possible health.  To mark this year’s World Health Day, WHO says good health is essential for maintaining a good quality of life as people get older in this rapidly aging world.

The pulsating beat of the music does not just get the hearts of young people pumping with joy.  Older people too get caught up in the rhythmic beat.  This video produced for World Health Day presents a montage of  elderly people throughout the world engaged in activities that would exhaust many a younger person.  Particularly impressive is the image of a 100-year-old man finishing a marathon.

World Health Day Graph

“We really need to change our thinking about people in the over-60 age group in radical ways,” said Director-General of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan.  She says so many people now are living to an advanced age that a birth date alone is no longer a measure of old age.

“Within the next five years, for the first time in history, the population of people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under the age of five.  In other words, being in the older age group is becoming the new normal for the world’s population and I am very proud to be qualified for the new normal,” she said.

World population aged 60 or over

Contrary to common perceptions, the WHO reports by 2050, 80 percent of the world’s older people will be living in low-and middle-income countries - not in the wealthier nations. And, a new analysis shows the key reasons for ill health in older people are from non-communicable diseases.  

The U.N. health agency says even in the poorest countries, elderly people are not dying from infectious diseases or gastroenteritis.  Rather, they are dying from heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.  

Director of the WHO Aging and Life Course, John Beard, says adopting healthy behaviors can significantly reduce the risk of developing all non-communicable diseases.  He says being physically active, eating a healthy diet, avoiding the harmful use of alcohol and not smoking can better the chances of enjoying a healthy old age.

He says it is also important for society to change its attitude toward aging.  He says it is wrong to focus on aging as a problem.  It is wrong to regard older people as a burden.

“At WHO, we see it somewhat differently," said Beard.  "We see older people as a resource.  We see them as a resource for their family, for their community, for society as a whole.  And the key to liberating that resource is good health and it is something which we have neglected in the past and we need to make sure that the older populations which we are going to share this planet within the future and which all of us will be part of - that as far as possible, we enjoy the best possible health because that makes everything possible.”  

The World Health Organization recommends several key actions to strengthen healthy and active aging.  It urges governments to promote good healthy behaviors throughout life and to provide basic primary health care to detect chronic diseases early so they can be treated.

WHO says physical and social environments should be created in which old people can thrive.  And it calls on governments to change social attitudes toward the elderly so they are respected and valued.

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