Health Futures @ Health2004

by Sally Fawkes, Evelyne de Leeuw and Maurice Mittelmark


“Valuing Diversity; Reshaping Power” was selected as the “theme for our time” to mobilize participation for the 18th World Conference on Health Promotion and Health Education (Health2004). Held in Melbourne Australia in April 2004, the conference drew over 3000 people from 105 countries to debate, learn and think about issues, policy, research and action from the perspective of promoting the health of populations and individuals. Participants reflected the breadth of people needed to investigate and act at local, national and international levels to improve health. They included: academics, researchers, practitioners, students, politicians and leaders and officials of health bureaucracies, non-government organizations and international organizations (including People’s Health Movement, WHO, World Bank and UN-Habitat).

This broad range of individuals and organizations is essential for conferences on health promotion: it is well recognized in definitions of health promotion1 that a complex set of factors, issues and challenges determine human health. Such “determinants of health” include policy and political aspects of health decision making at governmental, community and personal levels, challenges in the physical and social environment and human responses to those, social-economic aspects of lifestyle options (including equity in health) and what is now know as “the salutogenic perspective”. Stepping away from a more traditional bio-medical and biobehavioural perspective, salutogenesis considers those factors that make individuals and populations healthy, rather than the pathogenic perspective (also referred to as the “epidemiological model”) that looks at the development of disease. Health promotion thus values community participation, equity in health, and sustainable development as crucial elements in the improvement of health.

The Health Futures stream (a set of sessions linked by a theme and flowing through the program) was offered as a program innovation for the first time during a IUHPE world conference. It joined a cast of streams that have a more established history within IUHPE conferences. These concerned technical matters (research, generating and applying evidence, health communications, effective advocacy); key areas for building capacity to make health promotion effective (workforce development, leadership, partnerships and networks); settings for health promotion (health services, schools, cities, workplaces); and issues (health inequalities and poverty, mental health, ageing, health literacy, HIV/AIDS, cancer, cardiovascular diseases).

Here is a brief story of how the Health Futures stream was conceptualized and staged, and some of its impacts. For readers who work in areas not explicitly associated with health, the authors hope that this account will represent how bridges can be built between the field of futures studies and important social domains such as public health.

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