"Health gains are to be made mostly outside the healthcare sector"
“In our society, health gains can be made mostly outside the healthcare sector. We need to focus not just on the individual, but also on groups of people and their environments. It is precisely at the population level where we can make big gains, as long as we collaborate in our research with other parties in society, such as local government.” So argued Maria Jansen in her inaugural lecture titled 'Local government and population-focused health policy' on 24 April. Jansen has been professor holding an endowed chair in Population-Focused Health Policy at CAPHRI since the summer of 2014. To illustrate her argument, she cited a study into health problems with prevalence rates which were higher in certain areas compared to others. “Residents living in unsafe areas with little contact with their neighbours and high levels of traffic and train noise feel less healthy and are more often depressed. This is an example of a health problem at the population level. Health gains can be made in such areas by reducing noise levels and improving safety and social cohesion.”
Jansen studied Human Nutrition at Wageningen University. She briefly worked as a volunteer in developing countries and in 1989 was appointed health spokesperson for the then Southern South Limburg Public Health Service, where she collaborated with Maastricht University on a study into safe traffic mobility for older people. The study focused heavily on the owners of driving schools and older people, and it was her first study at the interface of research and practice. “I think it's important that the results of research can actually be applied in practice. And involving society in this process gives me a feeling of satisfaction.” In 2007 she earned her doctorate following a study on the collaboration between parties involved in the practice, research and policy in public health. At the time, she was already programme leader of the Academic Collaborative Centre for Public Health Limburg, which wished to promote collaboration with these parties. Jansen's ultimate goal: improve public health in the region. With the current expansion of basic healthcare provision through municipalities, the aim of a healthy and vital local population is more important than ever. “Municipalities will try to curtail the use of facilities, in part because of budget cut-backs by the national government. Consequently, municipalities will need to focus more on prevention, as this is where most gains can be made. Municipalities also have many questions about areas that we could be researching. One interesting question, for example, is whether the demand for youth care will decrease if there is heavy investment in parenting support.”
In her inaugural lecture, Jansen emphasised that healthy behaviour was not only a matter for the individual. For example, children are not likely to cycle to school on unsafe roads, and therefore good-quality bike lanes will encourage healthy behaviour. “Public health needs to tie in with other parties and sectors, such as urban planners working in local government and with education, for example.” Legislation can also play a role in changing social standards. For example, many people consider it perfectly normal that smoking is banned in public areas. “The ban on smoking changes the standard, resulting in more people coming on board.”
In her position as professor, Jansen will continue to work to advance practice-oriented research aimed at promoting public health.