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The role of the Arts in improving health and well-being: the World Health Organisation document

Nowadays, research on the Arts’ impact on health and well-being is continuously increasing; however, awareness of the evidence of these effects has been lacking, and consequently, there has been little coherence in developing related policies within European countries.

The World Health Organisation document What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review, edited by Daisy Fancourt and Saoirse Finn, intends to fill this gap and map all the available evidence. Over 900 publications have been identified, including over 200 reviews, meta-analyses and meta-summaries including over 3000 studies and over 700 individual studies. The research projects involved are different – from individual case studies to longitudinal cohort studies, ethnographies and randomised studies – as well as methods – psychological scales, neuroimaging, behavioural observations, and so on – and the disciplines offering insights for theoretical elaboration.

Overall, the results show that the Arts potentially impact on both mental and physical health. In particular, within health prevention and promotion field, the results show that the Arts can:

  • influence social determinants of health;
  • support childhood development;
  • encourage prevention and health promotion behaviours;
  • support care and assistance.

As for disease management and treatment, the results indicate the Arts as able to:

  • help people suffering from mental conditions;
  • support care and assistance of people with acute conditions;
  • support care and assistance of people with neurological problems;
  • support non-communicable diseases management;
  • support end-of-life assistance.

The evidence mapped in the WHO report provides various considerations and suggestions:

  • the growing number of evidence on the impact of the Arts on health and well-being must be acknowledged, implementing interventions where evidence is substantial (recorded music for patients before surgery, art for people with dementia and art programs for mental health communities), sharing practices and knowledge between different countries and supporting research;
  • it is necessary to ensure that culturally different art forms are available and accessible (with particular reference to disadvantaged minorities), to encourage arts and cultural organisations to include health and well-being as integral parts of their activities, and actively promote public awareness on the potential benefits of the Arts for health;
  • it is necessary to foster collaboration between culture, social assistance and health sectors, also introducing or strengthening the interaction between health and social assistance programs and artistic ones (such as social prescriptions) and supporting the artistic and humanistic education in health workers training to improve their clinical, personal and communication skills.

Here the livestream of the report launch, held in Helsinki on November 11, 2019, is available, as well as other WHO contributions.

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