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  • Arts Health ECRN

LEARN: Overview of the WHO report on the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing

Blog post written by Robyn Dowlen (Arts Health ECRN Blog Editor and Postdoctoral Research Associate, Centre for Cultural Value).


On the 11th November 2019, the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe published Dr Daisy Fancourt (Associate Professor in Psychobiology & Epidemiology and Arts Health ECR Network Lead) and Saoirse Finn’s (PhD researcher and Arts Health ECR Network Coordinator) scoping review of the evidence for the role of the arts in improving health and well-being. You can read the report here.

It is a timely publication which covers the findings of over 3500 published studies in order to map the current available evidence within the field of arts and health. The review includes a wide range of research designs, enabling a holistic approach to understanding the breadth and depth of the evidence within the field, including: uncontrolled pilot studies, nationally representative longitudinal cohort studies and community-wide ethnographies.

The results from the studies are encapsulated under two broad themes: Prevention and Promotion and Management and Treatment. The Prevention and Promotion theme highlights the ways in which the arts can address the social determinants of health, support child development as well as encourage health-promoting behaviours. The Management and Treatment theme shows how the arts can support people experiencing mental health challenges, those with neurodevelopmental and neurological conditions, as well as those experiencing end-of-life care.

There are also key points regarding policy considerations which will enable the arts to become more embedded within health practices. These recommendations include strengthening collaborations between different sectors, as well as the role of social prescribing in enabling access to arts activities for health and wellbeing purposes.

Overall this report is a fantastic starting point for any researcher entering the field of arts and health. It provides an opportunity to examine the growing evidence base in this area and provides clear policy recommendations based on the findings synthesized from a wide variety of published studies.

What are the key topics covered?

Social determinants of health; child development; health promotion and communication; wellbeing and mental health; cognitive decline; older adults; acute conditions; neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders; non-communicable diseases; end-of-life care; caregiving; prevention of ill health.

Which art forms are discussed?

Performing arts; visual arts, design and craft; literature-related; cultural engagement; online, digital and electronic arts; creativity.

What disciplines are involved?

This report showcases a wide range of methodologies and study designs across a diverse range of disciplines.

Who is it aimed at?

This report will be useful for a wide range of audiences, including researchers, policy makers and artists working in the field of arts and health. It provides an overview of the breadth and depth currently represented within arts and health research, and provides policy recommendations to ensure research findings can be translated into practice.

If you are interested in writing a blog on an arts and health related event or would like to write a book review for the blog please get in touch!

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