Changing the conversation about health

The arts can have a significant positive impact on health, WHO report says

Reading a book, dancing a waltz or spending the night at the theatre might be activities associated with leisure time… but according to a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), such pursuits could also improve mental and physical health.

Published in November 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s report looked at the role of the arts in improving health and well-being

The report, written with University College London, is the ‘most comprehensive’ to date to explore the impact of the arts on health and reviewed more than 3,000 studies and over 900 global publications.

Lead author, Dr. Daisy Fancourt, said interaction with arts, including literature, music and dance, can “affect social determinants of health, improving social cohesion and reducing social inequalities and inequities. Crucially, the arts can support the prevention of illness and promotion of good health.”

Report highlights include the idea that taking up a hobby can leave a person with depression three times more likely to recover from it

Health benefits in the report include how having a new hobby makes people three times more likely to recover from depression, how dance classes for patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease can improve motor scores and how playing an instrument can bolster the immune system.

The WHO report published in November 2019

Previous trials have shown that health institutions which play calming music or have soothing art-work on their walls can help reduce patient anxiety.

Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said of the report’s findings: “The examples cited in this groundbreaking WHO report show ways in which the arts can tackle ‘wicked’ or complex health challenges such as diabetes, obesity and mental ill-health.”

The report will trigger new policy recommendations around arts and health in World Health Organization member states including supporting arts organisations to incorporate health and well-being in their long-term strategies.