Active in prevention
Our missions are ambitious: we can only realise them when we work together. Top Sector LSH stimulates collaboration in the context of the quadruple helix: citizens, knowledge institutions, industry (including SMEs) and the government face challenges together. How do al these parties help in promoting a healthy lifestyle and living environment?
Healthy working as part of a healthy lifestyle
With Anne van Putten
‘The working environment is a very important aspect of the living environment: about half of the Dutch population is employed’, says Anne van Putten, Coordinator Knowledge & Research, Healthy & Safe Work, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, and Core Team Member Top Sector LSH. How does the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) stimulate a healthy working environment and prevent health problems?
‘Every year, over 4100 people die due to their work’, says Van Putten, Coordinator Knowledge & Research, Healthy & Safe Work, Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. ‘This is many times the number of road fatalities each year.’ This number is for a small part caused by industrial accidents, but includes many employees who die years after they retire. During their employment, they were exposed to toxic materials, such as asbestos, and so the employer did not even notice it. ‘This is, of course, very sad, and we must prevent such cases.’
So we know work can make people ill, but we can also turn it around: “Employment also provides an opportunity to create an environment in which citizens are stimulated to live healthily”, says Van Putten. ‘We know, for instance, that people who try to quit smoking are more successful when they do this together. Colleagues supporting each other is a very powerful tool to improve lifestyle behaviour.’
The role of the Ministry
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) is responsible for overall public health. ‘But citizens wake up every morning and go to work: for them, there is no barriers between their health and lifestyle in private settings and the workplace’, says van Putten. ‘Therefore, our campaigns are often intertwined with other campaigns.’
An example is the recently launched campaign “Exercise more” (meer bewegen), which aims to motivate employees sitting at a desk all day to get up and exercise more often. Meanwhile, there is the campaign “Exercising is the new normal”, launched by several top athletes and VWS. The goal is the same for both ministries: stimulate a healthy lifestyle by exercising enough.
Work and private
Are both important for a healthy lifestyle
Furthermore, SZW focuses on preventing occupational diseases. ‘This includes the exposure to hazardous substances, physical overload, but also physical underload: sitting still all day’, explains Van Putten. ‘We also look into psychological problems and mental disorders, such as stress, high pressure or burnouts. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and working from home started playing a role as well.’
‘At SZW, we believe it is important to make an effort on all of these subjects’, Van Putten continues. ‘We don’t want a situation where an employer swaps the croquettes in the cafeteria with salads and feels like that’s enough: if his employees are still exposed to hazardous substances, then the working environment is still not healthy.’
National Prevention Agreement
Van Putten also sees an important connection to Top Sector LSH. ‘If we talk to companies in the context of Mission I and enter into a dialogue about prevention through a healthy lifestyle, we should include the Working Conditions Act (Arbowet) as well: they are in line with each other. Employers have a duty of care (zorgplicht), so they have to create the optimal environment for people to work safely and healthily.’
This process has already started through the National Prevention Agreement, in which the Dutch government, together with over 70 social organisations, has signed 200 agreements to make the Netherlands healthier. Different employers’ organisations have also signed this agreement and are actively participating.
Van Putten praises the attention Top Sector LSH has for mental health, its impact on our overall health, and the work that still needs to be done to improve overall mental health. This is an important theme for employers and employees tool.
‘I also think prevention is very important’, says Van Putten. ‘My appeal for all the partners of the Top Sector LSH is as follows: let’s not narrow down prevention to lifestyle alone. Please also start the dialogue with employers too, and talk about what they have done in the workplace, on the floor and in the organisation. Only then can we really help our country to move forward, with great ambitions and great missions.’
Healthy lifestyle - COVID-19
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport sees the need for prevention even more since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, they work together with several partners and have launched numerous projects to reduce the social and economic impact of COVID-19.
The communication is also aimed at people with a lower social economic status and lower health literacy. The following COVID-19 poster to promote healthy living is written in easy language, thereby using icons to clarify the message.
School for Ninja
Improving lifestyle and mental health is not only a job for the government or organisations: social entrepreneurs play an important role as well.
School for Ninja is a company that works together with game designers, lifestyle coaches, therapists and experience experts. The company offers training to individuals or organisations to decrease the risk of stress and burnouts. Playful people experience less stress, can adapt more easily and can learn more from stressful experiences. And the good news is: playfulness is a skill that can be trained.
Through a gamified community platform and app, groups of stressed-out people are activated to approach daily life challenges with a playful mindset. By sharing experiences, these players determine the content of the community and inspire peers to join. The goal is for different people, in different contexts, to learn to recognise the room for free play in between all the rules of their life. Life then becomes airier, more fun and less stressful.
School for Ninja was one of the contestants of the Health Impact Accelerator (HIA) in 2020. This programme helps social entrepeneurs to further develop their health innovation and take their startup to the next level.
Read more about the HIA here.
The Healthy Generation (De Gezonde Generatie)
Our central mission, five more years of healthy living and reducing socioeconomic health differences by 30%, is set for 2040. Therefore an important target group for health education to increase a healthy lifestyle and prevent health problems is the future generation: our children. The younger we start prevention, the better!
The multiannual programme “Healthy Generation” aims to enable Dutch youth to become the healthiest youth in the world by 2040. The programme is implemented by The Association of Collaborating Health Foundations (SGF), which seeks to cooperate with various health institutions, the Dutch local and national governments, and Dutch society to achieve this ambitious goal.
The Healthy Generation programme covers multiple areas to promote a healthy lifestyle in a healthy living environment. Youngsters are involved in all projects on subjects such as eating healthy, staying away from tobacco, alcohol and drugs, enjoying sports and sleeping well.
‘The programme aims to inspire youngsters to make healthy choices and provides a platform to discuss all kinds of taboos concerning physical and mental health and illnesses. At the same time, all partners involved are committed to firmly anchoring the importance of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy environment on the political agenda. Together we can make this happen!’
- Mark Monsma, Director Healthy Generation & Core Team Member Top Sector LSH
Think Tank Mental Progress
Enhancing the mental strength of all Dutch citizens: this is the mission of the Think Tank Mental Progress. In recent decennia, our economy has grown extensively. Although our material welfare is abundant, our mental well-being has decreased: anxiety, depression, burnouts and stress occur more often than ever before. More than half of the health absenteeism is due to psychological problems. The Think Tank wants to draw attention to mental health and shows how to increase the mental strength and resilience of citizens and of society as a whole.
With the publication of the book mental progress in March, the Think Tank marks the start of a large movement in which citizens, organisations, SMEs and more work together. The book covers five focus areas for mental progression: positive emotion, engagement, relations, meaning and achievement.
When you improve in one of these areas, your overall mental strength improves. The focus areas provide an overview of the many possibilities to enhance mental health through lifestyle and living environment. Mental progress happens at all levels: every person, organisation or government body can work on different aspects within the focus areas that are most important for their own environment.