European Heart Health Initiative

Public health became a European Union (EU) policy objective with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 and the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997. Its Article 152 made a high level of human health a constituent part of EU policy making, to be accomplished through cooperation between its Member States and with EU action focused on the prevention of diseases through research and through health information and education. A European Commission public health framework programme, adopted in 1993, led to a variety of health programmes, inter alia on cancer, drugs and AIDS. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) was covered to a limited extent by the action programme on health promotion, information, education and training.

To give CVD its rightful place on the EU public health map, EHN consulted with the European Commission in 1995 regarding the possibility of launching a European ‘Year of the Heart and Quality of Life’ or perhaps a ‘European Heart Week’. These discussions led to a Commission-sponsored expert report on European action in the field of CVD prevention, ‘The European Heart Health Initiative’, published in February 1997.

The objectives of EHHI

The report made a very strong plea for an EU action strategy on CVD prevention to help reduce heart disease as a major cause of early death. It proposed that such an EU strategy should concern itself with:

  • education and training;
  • effective interventions to persuade people to convert to a healthier lifestyle;
  • a policy that would actively favour improved health;
  • research in health promotion and behavioural changes;
  • the monitoring of risk factors.

The longer-term objective was to determine the present state of health, i.e., eating, smoking and exercise patterns in the populations, find and share ways of changing these patterns, and identify those involved in the change process. The report suggested three phases for implementing EHHI:

  • The first phase:

Create and strengthen alliances between organisations involved in CVD prevention at both national and European level, to facilitate the exchange of information and the identification and prioritisation of the needs in CVD prevention;

  • The second phase:

A series of special events, to be launched by a conference on Valentine’s Day 2000, to focus the public’s attention on matters of heart health;

  • The third phase:

Continuing national action, based on the priorities set in the first phase, with a view to achieving the longer-term objective of improved heart health.
The EHHI project was implemented over five years during which period it was financially supported by the European Commission.

Outcomes of the EHHI

The EHHI project has produced the following outcomes:

  • A conference on CVD prevention, held as ‘Winning Hearts’ on 14 February 2000, the first Saint Valentine’s Day of the new millennium (a video of the conference was also produced);
  • An opinion survey on CVD prevention among members of the national parliaments in the countries participating in EHHI and among Members of the European Parliament, the results of which were announced at a press conference held on the same day as ‘Winning Hearts’;
  • A CVD screening of Members of the European Parliament (and a report thereof);
  • A statistic report  ‘European Cardiovascular Disease Statistics’;
  • A periodical bulletin ‘Heart Matters’;
  • A paper on ‘Children and Young People – the Importance of Physical Activity’;
  • Guidelines for building national alliances for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases;
  • National Action Plans to increase physical activity – a report setting out findings and recommendations from a review of action plans to increase physical activity among children and young people carried out by the participants in the EHHI.

EHHI project’s Publications

National action plans to increase physical activity among young people and children
Guidelines for Building National Alliances for the Prevention of CVD
Children and Young People; the importance of Physical Activity
 ‘Winning Hearts – Actions and Policies for a Healthier Europe’
European Politicians on Health and Heart Survey 1999 – 2000
The case for a European Heart Health Initiative