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Bull World Health Organ. 2018 Jan 1;96(1):42-50. doi: 10.2471/BLT.17.198358. Epub 2017 Nov 23.

A life-course approach to health: synergy with sustainable development goals.

Author information

Office of the Assistant Director-General, Family, Women's and Children's Health, World Health Organization, avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.
Department of Ageing and Life Course, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Gender, Equity and Human Rights, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.
Office of the Director-General, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


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A life-course approach to health encompasses strategies across individuals' lives that optimize their functional ability (taking into account the interdependence of individual, social, environmental, temporal and intergenerational factors), thereby enabling well-being and the realization of rights. The approach is a perfect fit with efforts to achieve universal health coverage and meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Properly applied, a life-course approach can increase the effectiveness of the former and help realize the vision of the latter, especially in ensuring health and well-being for all at all ages. Its implementation requires a shared understanding by individuals and societies of how health is shaped by multiple factors throughout life and across generations. Most studies have focused on noncommunicable disease and ageing populations in high-income countries and on epidemiological, theoretical and clinical issues. The aim of this article is to show how the life-course approach to health can be extended to all age groups, health topics and countries by building on a synthesis of existing scientific evidence, experience in different countries and advances in health strategies and programmes. A conceptual framework for the approach is presented along with implications for implementation in the areas of: (i) policy and investment; (ii) health services and systems; (iii) local, multisectoral and multistakeholder action; and (iv) measurement, monitoring and research. The SDGs provide a unique context for applying a holistic, multisectoral approach to achieving transformative outcomes for people, prosperity and the environment. A life-course approach can reinforce these efforts, particularly given its emphasis on rights and equity.

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