Healthy Aging Symposium

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaking at PAHO's Healthy Aging Symposium

“Good health adds life to years.” That was the theme of April 7’s World Health Day, as well as today’s Healthy Aging Symposium hosted by the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C.

By 2020, the Americas will have 200 million older people, almost double that of 2006. More than half of those people will live in Latin America and the Caribbean. The increase in life expectancy and consequent growth in the older population has meant a rise in non-communicable disease and disability and a wider demand for health care.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was one of the symposium’s speakers, emphasized the positive trend of people living longer, not just in the U.S., but around the globe. The key is to ensure healthy aging, she said, so that mature years are unmarred by chronic diseases and diminished health.

 “Older citizens must not be seen as a burden to society, but rather engaged citizens and partners,” Sebelius said. “It is also important that they are involved as key decision-makers in their health care.”

For people in their retirement years, finding purpose and motivation in life, setting goals and staying connected with their communities, families and friends is essential, emphasized many of the symposium panelists.

Public health successes during the past 100 years have resulted in dramatic changes in the world, with increased longevity and life expectancy, according to Linda Fried, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and senior vice president of the university’s medical center. Sebelius highlighted the importance of investing in prevention and public health as well as gains that have been made in the U.S. during the past few years, such as the historic 2010 health reform law.

Chronic disease is a worldwide issue and the dominant cause of death around the world. Health behaviors such as tobacco smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and misuse of alcohol are contributing factors and can have a negative effect healthy aging, said the panelists.

To watch a recording of the symposium, visit the PAHO website.