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Because of the rising cost of treating illness coupled with the difficult economic environment, interest in health promotion is increasing worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health promotion as the process of enabling people to increase control over their health and its determinants (e.g. smoking, physical activity, diet), and thereby improve their health. This is usually addressed by activities aimed at promoting healthy behaviors and creating healthy policies and environments in order to affect large segments of the population.

The impact of these activities is enhanced if healthy public policy is adopted across all sectors of society, especially by governments, including in settings such as urban planning not typically seen as part of the health system.

Social marketing campaigns promoting physical activity increase class attendance.

Average monthly attendance at physical activity sessions supported by Fit ‘n Fab social marketing program compared to pre-existing sessions without social marketing, Southmead, Bristol, UK

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Chart showing average monthly attendance at physical activity sessions supported by a social marketing program increased as compared to pre-existing sessions without social marketing

Instilling healthy behaviors and practices during youth may be easier and more effective than changing entrenched unhealthy behaviors during adulthood.

The WHO Health Promoting Schools initiative aims to prevent tobacco use, sedentary lifestyles, and unhealthy nutrition worldwide. In many countries, education on these risk factors is part of the school curriculum. Instilling healthy behaviors and practices during youth may be easier and more effective than changing entrenched unhealthy behaviors during adulthood.

Many employers, especially in high-income countries, have health promotion programs for their workers, since such programs have been shown to increase productivity and reduce costs. Governments as well as public and private health organizations also play pivotal roles in motivating people to adopt healthy lifestyles and increasing awareness about cancer. For example, several countries have banned smoking in public places and require health warnings on cigarettes or nutrition labels on foods. The Union for International Cancer Control holds World Cancer Day each February to improve awareness about cancer and healthy behaviors.

Health promotion includes not only health education for individual-level behaviors, but also actions in all sectors of society, including communities and governments.

Health promotion strategies

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Chart showing health promotion includes not only health education for individual-level behaviors, but also actions in all sectors of society, including communities and governments

"The function of protecting and developing health must rank even above that of restoring it when it is impaired."

Hippocrates