WHO: Art Helps Promote Health
Engaging with the arts can be beneficial for both mental and physical health, according to a new study from the World Health Organization in the European region.
Over the past two decades, there has been a major increase in research into the effects of the arts on health and well-being, alongside developments in practice and policy activities in different countries across the WHO European Region and further afield.
The new WHO Europe report “What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review” synthesizes the global evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being, with a specific focus on the European Region. Results from over 3000 studies identified a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan.
The reviewed evidence included study designs such as uncontrolled pilot studies, case studies, small-scale cross-sectional surveys, nationally representative longitudinal cohort studies, community-wide ethnographies and randomized controlled trials from diverse disciplines.
The beneficial impact of the arts could be furthered through the following actions, according to the WHO:
- Acknowledging and acting on the growing evidence base;
- Promoting arts engagement at the individual, local and national levels; and
- Supporting cross-sectoral collaboration.
Arts and alcohol prevention
There is promising preliminary evidence from individual observational studies that people who engage with the arts are more likely to lead healthier lives in general, with people eating more healthily for example and being more physically active, irrespective of their socioeconomic status and social capital.
Engagement with community activities such as arts and crafts has been shown to improve general self-perceived health and aspects of mental health and well-being.
The report cites evidence that regular activity sessions combining music and games with stories focused on increasing empowerment have been found to decrease marijuana and alcohol use in high-risk adolescents.
The report also shows that song-writing workshops have been found to reduce cravings in patients with substance use disorders, probably through distraction, engagement and motivation.
Another way for art to promote alcohol prevention is through interventions using the arts in relation to drug and tobacco in both community- and school-based initiatives. For example, plays about substance use have also been found to increase the participation of adults in substance use prevention initiatives, including the donation of money to prevention activities.