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Statement from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on World Health Day, April 7, 2012

This year’s World Health Day theme, “Good health adds life to years”, highlights the need to ensure that people are living well as they live longer. The world’s population is aging at an unprecedented rate. Within the next five years, the number of people over 65 years will outnumber children under age five for the first time in human history. By 2050, there will be more adults over 65 years than children under age 14. Societies that support the active participation of their older populations and promote their health and well-being will be better prepared to adapt to this changing world.

Global aging is a tremendous success story. Today, people are living decades longer and lead generally healthier lives than ever before because of the triumph of public health, medical advancement, and economic development over disease and injury. These gains aren’t only being seen in industrialized countries. The most rapid and dramatic demographic changes are happening in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia, where over half of the world’s older population lives. Not only will developing countries have less time to prepare for aging populations, they will also need to address age-related challenges at lower levels of economic development than industrialized countries.

The right to the best possible health does not diminish as we age. With a longer life comes the increased likelihood of disabilities, chronic illnesses or cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease, which may mean growing needs for long-term care and nursing support.

That’s why our department is working to make sure Americans and people around the world get the care they need to stay healthy as they age. The Affordable Care Act is making prevention benefits available and prescriptions more affordable for seniors and people with disabilities and will soon ensure that people, of all ages, with pre-existing conditions get coverage. The Administration on Aging helps communities, caregivers, and health care providers prepare for an aging society and works internationally to promote the dignity and independence of older people. The National Institute on Aging conducts research to discover what may contribute to healthy aging while addressing the disease and disability sometimes associated with growing older.

Meeting the changing needs of our population involves all sectors of society – that’s why the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation are all part of the network of age-friendly communities recently launched by AARP, in affiliation with the World Health Organization. We can build healthy, vibrant communities by working across generations to promote aging in place, and engaging the skills and experience of our older populations.

At HHS, we are pleased to join the World Health Organization and people around the world in answering World Health Day's call to action, and to work closely with the international community to improve health and well-being for older populations at home and abroad.

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