Johan Mackenbach, professor of public health at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, spoke of the recent divergence of life expectancy in Europe and possible explanations for such a trend.
Mackenbach said the trends, which show health disparity based on national income gaps, are the result of a variety of cultural factors. Using charts, graphs and other data to help illustrate his point, Mackenbach showed that periods of democracy had historically higher life expectancies, while periods of more chaotic political climates showed dips in the life expectancies.
Mackenbach outlined 11 specific areas of focus for health policies, including tobacco control, alcohol control, child health and road traffic injury. He said countries that have more preventative health policies — contrary to most U.S. delivery models — showed fewer instances of health problems related to each area of concern.
For example, he said countries with stricter tobacco control regulations and preventative measures to discourage smoking had fewer smokers, lower cigarette sales and fewer smoking-related health issues in the population.
Mackenbach discussed possible reasons for the existing disparities. He found that many countries which could benefit from improved healthcare models often possess the means to do so, but are stymied by the political, social and cultural climate of the country.
John Frank, director of the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research & Policy and chair of Public Health Research & Policy at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, delivered the second address, titled “Influencing Child Health Policies with Scientific Evidence: Lessons from 5 Years in Scotland.”
His lecture aimed to demonstrate the importance of early access to education on an individual’s health and future success. Frank said early education implementation is the single most important indicator for a child’s future.
“You can make people’s chances in life much more equal in only one really cost effective way, and that is giving universal preschool high quality education, half day a week from age two, age one in high risk families,” Frank said.
Frank proposed a plan to combat societal challenges through education, while addressing some of the concerns of implementing potential reforms.
Public Health Prof. George Kaplan acted as the moderator and he introduced both Mackenbach and Frank’s speeches and led a question and answer session after each speaker. The Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, the University’s Robert Johnson Foundation Scholar’s in Health Policy Program and the Center for Social Epidemiology of Population Health sponsored the event.