Japan the oldest society in history: forum

WKC public health forum

Dr Megumi Kano, a WHO Kobe Centre technical officer, addressed 50 people on the subject of the ageing population from an international viewpoint. Part of an annual series of seminars held every winter by HEM-21 (Hyogo Earthquake Memorial 21st Century Research Institute), Dr Kano shared with the community a series of brightly-coloured charts illustrating the unprecedented ageing situation in Japan as well as in other parts of the world. Already, Japan has the highest proportion of elderly to “productive population” (aged 15-64) in the world and in the history of humanity. This is forecast to continue to at least 2050, when the populations in Japan, Europe and rapidly developing countries in Asia and the Americas including China and Brazil will be dramatically older. According to Dr Kano, “there are two misconceptions held by people, that the ageing trend is tapering off, and that it is a developed country issue. In fact, the most rapid ageing is ahead of us, and it will increasingly be an issue affecting less developed countries.”

Dr Kano also presented two WHO initiatives, Active Ageing and Age- Friendly Cities. WHO describes “active ageing” as the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security, and it aims to extend healthy life expectancy and quality of life for all people as they age. There is now a global network of Age-Friendly Cities, including New York as its first member, which aims to help cities create urban environments that allow older people to remain active and healthy participants in society. Based on an extensive survey of older New Yorkers and an assessment of city agencies, the city has produced a cultural guide to Manhattan for seniors, and will convert to a universally accessible taxi fleet by 2014 among other measures.

The audience expressed great interest in the topic and shared their thoughts and opinions. Some of their key concerns included the lack of opportunity for social participation and employment for the elderly, the perpetuation of a negative portrayal of the elderly as a burden on society, and governments’ capacity to ensure quality of life for all citizens in the face of such unprecedented ageing of the population.