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WHO Launches Ground Breaking Research On Health Benefits Of Arts

In partnership with the Jameel Arts & Health Lab, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently announced a forthcoming Lancet Global Series on the health benefits of arts.

The research collaboration, which kicked off on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), builds on a 2019 WHO report that presented evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being.

The report identified the contribution that it may have in promoting good health and health equity, preventing illness, and treating acute and chronic conditions across the life course. These activities can range from dance programmes for people with Parkinson’s Disease, music therapy for pain management, and drama therapy to support social-emotional development, among many others.

According to Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the WHO, “For too long we have seen Science and the Arts as separate endeavours. But these silos were not always so. Throughout much of human history, the creative interface of different disciplines has been a catalyst for both innovation and healing. So, I am delighted that this Jameel Arts & Health Lab – Lancet global series will show the scientific basis of the arts’ role in health with rigor, and help position artists and scientists as necessary partners towards health and well-being for all.”

The research series will be grounded on a novel conceptual framework for the important role it plays in supporting health. It will focus on noncommunicable diseases, a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. It will also raise awareness about the existing evidence base and offer recommendations to improve global policy guidance on topics such as scaling up promising interventions through social prescribing and intersectoral collaboration between the arts, health, education, and social care sectors.

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“The Lancet is pleased to convene this series on the centrality of the arts in health—a topic that has been too long neglected by the health sector and donors. The arts must be seen as both central to the human experience and important in the maintenance of good health. This Lancet Series will hopefully provide the foundation of evidence needed to ensure that the arts will be viewed as essential, in particular, to prevent and support people with noncommunicable diseases,” said Dr. Miriam Lewis Sabin, North American Executive Editor, The Lancet.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where balcony performances and home window exhibits inspired hope and connection, there has also been high-profile engagement from major cultural institutions, artists, and media platforms calling attention to the relationship between the arts, culture, and health.

“When we remember the WHO definition of health, which states that health is more than merely the absence of disease and infirmity, but the attainment of the highest level of physical, mental and social well-being, then the value of the arts becomes apparent,” says WHO Arts & Health Lead, Christopher Bailey.

“Our measures should reflect this holistic approach, focusing not solely on the reduction of symptoms but on how the arts may help us cope, achieve our potential, be productive, and be active members of a community. This special Lancet series will look at the health benefits of the arts and creative expression not solely from a medicalized view, but a holistic asset-based approach as well.”

The Jameel Arts & Health Lab – Lancet global series was announced on 20 September 2023 at a special WHO75 Wellbeing Concert and Reception at Carnegie Hall as part of UNGA Healing Arts Week. It featured performances by multi-Grammy award-winning Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato and Metropolitan Opera pianist Howard Watkins.

The concert was followed by a meeting of over 50 researchers from universities around the world at New York University Steinhardt to start the series, which is scheduled to be published in late 2024.