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Older people regularly visiting UNFPA-supported centres live healthier, longer lives, new study finds

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina – A network of 17 Healthy Ageing Centres supported by UNFPA in Bosnia and Herzegovina is having a dramatic positive impact on the health and well-being of older persons, a new study has found.

“It is clear from our survey that these centres provide opportunities for older persons to participate in activities that are critical for healthy ageing, such as exercise and developing social networks,” said Professor Tara Keck, lead researcher from University College London, which carried out the study.

“These activities are associated with a 35 per cent to 45 per cent decrease in mortality over the span of seven years and a delay of nearly two years in developing age-related diseases,” Professor Keck added.

The study was commissioned by UNFPA and the NGO Partnership for Public Health in order to assess the benefits of the Healthy Ageing Centres. Partnership for Public Health established the first such centre in Sarajevo in 2011 and new centres are opening at a steady pace with UNFPA support. The vision is to eventually institute one in each municipality of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in other countries in the Balkan region.

The centres provide a place for older persons to gather, socialize and participate in organized courses and activities such as exercise, painting, traditional crafts, computer skills, language skills, sports, singing and cooking. According to the University College London study, older persons who are members of these centres exhibit better exercise and eating habits, and express more satisfaction with their friendships and familial relationships, than their non-member peers. Among other results, the study found that Healthy Ageing Centre members are:

  • 10 per cent more likely to undertake moderate exercise
  • 10 per cent more likely to consume the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables
  • 13 per cent less likely to report that they often feel lonely
  • 15 per cent more likely to say they are happy with their friendships
  • 28 per cent more likely to say they are happy with their family relationships

“Operating at a very low cost, lower than the price of medications used to care for the health of older persons, the Healthy Ageing Centres make an enormous contribution to human longevity and the strengthening of human capital in the country,” said John Kennedy Mosoti, UNFPA Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “They are a perfect example of how older persons can help themselves while also contributing to society at large.”

Like many other countries in Eastern Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina is experiencing population ageing, with the proportion of older persons in the country increasing from 5 per cent in 1971 to 17 per cent in 2019. Population projections show that this proportion will continue to grow, reaching approximately 37 per cent by 2050, due to low fertility and the emigration of working-age people.

Especially taking into account the increased vulnerability of older persons to the COVID-19 pandemic, population ageing presents challenges to societies, including higher health care and social protection costs. But a healthy and active older population can also make great contributions – at work, in their communities and to society at large.

“By investing in the health and skills of people over the entire life course, older persons can continue to be actively engaged in public life and the economy well into old age, as a resource not a burden, sharing their wisdom, knowledge and skills,” said Mosoti.

Support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Healthy Ageing Centres is just one aspect of UNFPA’s broader initiative to strengthen demographic resilience across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region by promoting the development of societies for all ages. In partnership with governmental, non-governmental and private-sector stakeholders, UNFPA works to improve the capacity of countries in the region to develop policies and programmes that respond to demographic change, strengthen human capital and shape a prosperous future.

“The Healthy Ageing Centres provide a cost-effective way to improve the health and well-being of older persons,” said Professor Keck. “They should be considered as a critical part of any infrastructure developed to support healthy ageing.”