|Press Release WHO/50
28 September 1999
MILLIONS WALK AS WHO LAUNCHES A GLOBAL MOVEMENT FOR ACTIVE AGEINGGeneva - The biggest health promotion event in history by and for older people will take place on Saturday 2 October in more than 1,500 cities in 86 countries.
Well over 2 million people of all ages will stage a global "walkathon" to support the concept of healthy and productive "active ageing" and to oppose "ageism" or age discrimination.
Active ageing is the World Health Organization's response to the rapidly growing number of men and women over 60 in the world's population. Today there are about 590 million older people; in just 25 years that number will double to 1.2 billion.
The world-wide walk, known as the Global Embrace, also celebrates the United Nations 1999 International Year of Older Persons.
WHO intends to launch the Global Movement for Active Ageing, a world-wide network of interested partners in developed and developing countries, through the Global Embrace. By active ageing, WHO refers to the process of seizing and optimising opportunities for physical, social and mental well-being throughout the entire life in order to extend healthy life expectancy.
"The thinking behind the Global Embrace is quite simple," says Dr Alexandre Kalache, the Brazilian Head of WHO's Ageing and Health Programme. "Individuals can and should make choices about healthy life styles, and policy-makers are in a position to make well-informed decisions about the policies that will keep the largest number of people productive and healthy at older ages. Informed changes in life styles and sensible public policies -- not miracle drugs -- are the road to active ageing.
"As there are still negative stereotypes associated with old age in many societies, an event in which hundreds of thousands of older people together with people of all ages participate will promote a positive and active image of ageing and help to discredit those prejudices and stereotypes. This is an essential condition for enabling older persons to make their contribution to their society and to a harmonious, intergenerational, global community." WHO hopes that the global walk will permit health care workers, concerned activists and policy-makers to initiate a dialogue with the general population on what active ageing is all about.
The walks will follow the rising sun from Fiji, New Zealand and New Caledonia to continue non-stop through more than 1,500 large cities and small towns in Australia, Japan, China, the Philippines, India, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas to close the day once again in the Pacific.
Walkers will stroll along beaches and country roads, through parks, stadiums and shopping malls. Older citizens will be joined by families and friends, community organizers, local and international celebrities and by ordinary citizens expressing their solidarity with their elders.
In New Zealand there will be more than 20 walks, with a national focus on Maori elders and their sacred sites, while in Japan more than 100 cities have organized walks and festivities, including Nagano, where 10,000 older people will make a pilgrimage to a Buddhist temple to pray for the health of the world's older population. Probably the largest celebration will be in the Philippines: around 1 million older persons are expected to walk.
A three-kilometre walk will take place in Kibaha on the Tanzanian coast with with the theme "Old is Gold." The Finnish city of Turku had an original idea: a walking festival that focuses on the many different ways in which we can walk, for example, walking on a tightrope, walking on wooden legs, on one's hands, and power walking with ski-poles.
Dozens of cities in Great Britain are scheduling events to mark the day. Prince Charles will send a special message by video to walkers. In London the walk will start at the Tower Bridge and end at the Royal Festival Hall where there will be an exhibition on healthy ageing. The route will follow the banks of the Thames with the participation of political leaders, entertainers, and celebrities. Throughout Germany thousands of older citizens will walk, dance waltzes, watch puppet, pantomime and theatre performances, and sports club demonstrations on improving life styles.
In Brazil -- as in Mexico -- several hundred cities are staging festivities. Geneva, which joined Rio de Janeiro in 1997 at WHO's initiative in preparing for the Global Embrace, has arranged "a walk for all ages and for all cultures" in the gardens of the UN Palais des Nations, along with an exhibition on longevity, a wine festival, and sports for older people.
Imaginative events have been scheduled all over the United States of America. In New York, for example, walks through Central Park and down 5th Avenue are called "Ageing Out Loud." As organizers say, "it lets us all know that ageing is something we can be proud of, it is not to be feared, but is a natural part of life."
Reaching the Pacific again, the Global Embrace will bring together thousands of older Californians in the state capital of Sacramento where they will form a human chain encircling the 1.1-mile perimeter of the state capital. In true California style they will be joined by entertainers and celebrities.
Hailing all these and innumerable other events on Saturday, the second of October, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO's Director-General, declared: "The Global Embrace is an impressive demonstration of what Active Ageing is all about. In all parts of the world older people have been actively involved in planning and organising the events in their cities and towns. On 2 October, they will be out and about enjoying the walk events and celebrations with their families and fellow citizens. I know that you will join me in saluting these older citizens who continue to show us the way to the future. I would like to assure you that WHO will continue to play a leading role in promoting Active Ageing in the future by launching a Global Movement for Active Ageing. This Global Movement will harness the combined energies of government and civil society to promote policies and programmes that work best to ensure that people remain in good health and are active and involved with their families and communities."
Dr. Kalache adds that "the vast majority of older people remain physically fit well into later life and maintain high 'functional capacity.' How fast their physical and mental capacities decline depends on factors such as their adult life style, smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and social class rather than on ageing per se.
"Living in an ageing world will require four adjustments. First, people of all ages will have to acknowledge older people as a valuable resource and oppose discrimination because of age. Second, society should provide adequate health care and appropriate health promotion throughout the life span. Third, solidarity among generations must be strongly encouraged. Fourth, older citizens should be enabled to be active participants in community and civic activities.
"Population ageing also presents new challenges for many national health systems. From a public health perspective the biggest challenge will be to ensure that a maximum number of people maintain or even regain their health at older ages.
"The fact that there are fewer old people in paid jobs is not due to their incapacity, but to inferior education and training and especially to ageism, that is, age discrimination. Substantial contributions are made by older people in unpaid work, for example, farming, the informal sector and in voluntary tasks. Many economies in the world depend to a large extent on these contributions. The economic input of these older citizens often passes unnoticed, undervalued and unappreciated."Getting older is good for individuals and for their societies. The alternative of dying prematurely is certainly not. The future emphasis of public policy should be on promoting active and healthy ageing rather than concentrating on a disease-oriented approach."
For additional information or interviews, please contact: Dr Alexandre Kalache, Chief, Ageing and Health, WHO, (41-22) 791-3404 direct or 3405, e-mail email@example.com or Irene Hoskins, Senior Officer, Ageing and Health, WHO, (41-22) 791-3496 direct, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For radio broadcasters see http://www.who.int/multimedia/, For video news release, contact email@example.com. Web page: http://www.who.int/ageing/
FACTS AND QUOTES ABOUT AGEING
Life expectancy at birth in the developing world has risen from 41 years in the early 1950s to 62 in 1990. By 2020 it is projected to reach 70.
In 20 developing countries, including Argentina, China, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand, it has already exceeded the age of 70.
Following the sharp rise in life expectancy, birth rates have fallen dramatically. In China, for example, the number of children per family has dropped from 5.5 in 1970 to 1.8 today. For Brazil the fertility rate has declined in this period from 5.1 to 2.2. In India it has fallen from 5.9 to 3.1.
Today 60% of people over 60 live in developing countries and in 25 years the proportion will exceed 75%.
This has prompted the remark, "the developed world became rich before it became old, while developing countries are becoming old before they become rich."
One projection for developing countries suggests that by 2020 75% of all deaths could be ageing-related.
There has been an encouraging decline in severe disability among older people in, for instance, the USA. It is currently estimated at 1.5% per year.
"I am an older person and I'm proud of it." Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations
"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken care of myself." Eubie Blake, composer, on reaching 100
"No wise man ever wished to be younger." Jonathan Swift
"Old age has its pleasures which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth." Somerset Maugham
"Had I died at 60 I would not have published a single book." José Saramago at 76 when he received the 1998 Nobel Prize of Literature
"It is not age that is at fault but rather our attitudes toward it," Cicero, Essay on Old Age, 73 B.C.
"It is not how old you are but how you are old which matters." Chinese proverb
"The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune." proverb
"Old is gold." Tanzanian proverb