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Prevention and Health Promotion are the motto at the Local Health Authority Day 2023

Press Release by Robert Koch Institute

The around 400 local health authorities in Germany - like local health authorities all over the world - are the backbone of all efforts to promote the health of the population. They also play a decisive role in prevention and health promotion, the motto for this year's Local Health Authority Day on 19 March.

Prevention includes all activities which avoid, delay or make illnesses less likely. Health promotion aims to strengthen resources for maintaining health. Health scientists around the world assume that a healthy lifestyle is not a question of willingness but is determined by the opportunities which are available to a person. It is, for example, difficult to practise more sport in a socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhood, despite poster campaigns, if there are hardly any green spaces or walking paths or if there is no sports club within reach. In addition, in everyday life the "unhealthier alternative" is often the easier alternative, such as taking the escalator in department stores. "The aim must be to make the healthier choice the easier choice," the Ottawa Charter of the World Health Organisation of 1986 states.

Local health authorities therefore play a central role in implementing health promotion and prevention locally and in shaping the living environment "community" or “neighbourhood” in a way that promotes health. The Prevention Act adopted in Germany in 2015 has significantly strengthened health promotion and prevention in communities. German Health authorities can now apply to the statutory health insurance funds for health promotion projects. A particular strength of the local health authorities is their ability to network different stakeholders at the community level and to coordinate prevention. In many places, local health authorities have set up steering committees such as municipal health conferences, which contribute to the success of preventive measures at the local level in Germany.

In its health monitoring studies, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) collects population-wide data on prevention. Information is collected, more particularly, on the use of vaccinations, measures for early detection and behavioural prevention and health literacy, as well as health behaviour such as physical activity or nutrition. The focus is also on aspects which influence the use of prevention services or health-promoting behaviour, e.g., socio-demographic factors such as gender, age, social status, education or health attitudes. The RKI also conducts research on participatory approaches to prevention and health promotion.

People often fail to realise how important prevention and health promotion are for staying healthy. If, for instance, a broad-based vaccination against an infectious disease is carried out and the number of illnesses subsequently decreases, this disease and the decisive role of vaccination increasingly disappear from the awareness of the population. At the same time, side effects of vaccination seem to be more serious than the disease prevented. Even in the case of non-communicable diseases, the benefits of population-based measures are hardly visible to the individual, e.g., in the improvement of the dietary or physical activity behaviour of children. The effect of prevention and health promotion - e.g., a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease - often only becomes apparent after many years.

The Local Health Authority Day was proclaimed by the RKI for the first time in 2019 to pay tribute to the work of local health authorities and to draw attention to their situation. 19 March is the birthday of Johann Peter Frank. The doctor and community physician born in the mid-18th century, is regarded as the founder of the public health service.

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Date: 15.03.2023