Culture and health on the world stage: an interview with Nils Fietje

October 3, 2022, 3:03 pm

The CultureforHealth project is ramping up to launch its scoping review, which will present the evidence collected through the review of 300 scientific studies and deliver a set of policy recommendations for Europe based on the findings. The review will be publicly launched mid-November, another moment during the life of the project, where professionals and practitioners from the health and wellness sector and arts and culture sector and policymakers can engage around the intersection of culture and wellbeing.

One of the project’s advisory board members and contributors to the upcoming scoping review is Nils Fietje, Technical Officer for World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe. WHO has pushed to put culture as a health promotion on the world map with a groundbreaking report on the field published in 2019. Nils recently sat down for an interview with CultureForHealth to speak more on the WHO’s growing focus on culture.

Currently working within the Behavioural and Cultural Insights (BCI) Unit at WHO Europe, Nils explains that the work of his team primarily focuses on highlighting the importance of behaviour in healthcare as well as both barriers and drivers in relation to health. “I am specifically interested in how cultural contexts affect health, from the way we respond to mask mandates to the way we experience pain. As an extension, particularly of how culture can impact health directly and physiologically, I have been drawn into the area of arts and health. Current research suggests that even passive cultural participation, such as watching a movie or reading a book, can help reduce stress and anxiety while generally improving mental health,” says Nils.

In fact, the work WHO is doing within the cultural dimension comes from a mounting supply of evidence resulting in over 40 years of formal studies of arts and health. Some of the interventions WHO has documented are very simple, with minimal upfront investment and hardly any health risks. “For example, there is good clinical evidence to suggest that just listening to music before an operation can have positive effects on post-operative recovery. In the past 15 years, the field of arts and health has gained a lot of traction, especially in the UK, and thus it appeared on our radar. Concurrently, there has also been a rising interest in a more holistic understanding of health. In many parts of the world, the global burden of disease is shifting to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, which are complex challenges that require multimodal interventions.”

With the launch of CultureForHealth’s scoping review coming in mid-November, Nils looks optimistally to the future of the intersection between arts and health: “I believe that in 20 years, certain arts and health interventions will be perfectly natural parts of the healthcare portfolio. For instance, following a hip replacement, you might still be prescribed physical therapy, or you could be sent to a specifically designed dance activity. And similarly, if you have trouble breathing, you might be prescribed to attend a special choir where you exercise your lung functions. These interventions already exist, but in the future, access will be widened, and it will no longer seem unusual to prescribe these types of healthcare.”

He goes on to stress the idea that society neds to change, however, before patient-centred care becomes the complete norm. ” I must emphasize that these methods will not replace existing biomedical interventions. Rather, the goal is to provide further options, which are both cost-effective and custom-made for the individual patient.”

See the full interview from the CultureForHealth project here.


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