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Ageism is a global challenge: the UN

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Every other person in the world is believed to have ageistic attitudes – leading to poorer physical and mental health and reduced quality of life for the elderly, costing societies billions of dollars each year, according to a new United Nations report on ageism.

The report, released today by the WHO, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), calls for urgent action to combat ageism and better measurement and reporting to expose ageism as it is an insidious plague on society.

The response to the control of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed how widespread ageism is older and younger people are stereotyped in public discourse and on social media. In some contexts, age is used as the sole criterion for access to medical care, rescue therapies, and for physical isolation.

“While states strive to recover and recover from a pandemic, we cannot allow age stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination to limit the ability to ensure the health, well-being and dignity of people everywhere,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This report describes the nature and scope of the problem, but also offers solutions in the form of evidence-based interventions to stop ageism at all stages.”

Findings from the report

Ageism permeates many institutions and sectors of society, including those that provide health and social care, in the workplace, in the media, and in the legal system. Age-based health care rationing is widespread. A systematic review in 2020 showed that in 85 percent of the 149 studies, the age of who received certain medical procedures or treatments was determined.

Both older and younger adults are often disadvantaged in the workplace, and access to specialized training and education declines significantly with age. Ageism against younger people manifests itself in many areas such as employment, health, housing, and politics, where the voices of younger people are often denied or rejected.

“Ageism towards younger and older people is widespread, unrecognized, unprovoked and has far-reaching consequences for our economies and societies,” said Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Interdepartmental Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “It simply came to our notice then. Join the movement and fight ageism. ”

Ageism has serious and far-reaching consequences for the health and well-being of people. Among older people, agegeism is associated with poor physical and mental health, increased social isolation and loneliness, greater financial insecurity, reduced quality of life, and premature death. It is estimated that 6.3 million cases of depression globally can be attributed to ageism. It cuts off and exacerbates other forms of bias and shortcomings, including those related to gender, race and disability, leading to negative impacts on people’s health and well-being.

“The pandemic has greatly alleviated the vulnerability of older people, especially the most marginalized, who often face overlapping discrimination and barriers – because they are poor, living with disabilities, women living alone or belonging to minority groups,” said Natalia Kanem, CEO. United Nations Population Fund. “Let’s make this crisis a turning point in the way we see, treat and respond to older people, so that together we can build a world of health, well-being and dignity for all ages we all want.”

Ageism costs our society billions of dollars. In the United States (USA), a 2020 study showed ageism in the form of negative age stereotypes and self-perceptions that led to an excessive annual cost of $ 63 billion for the eight most expensive health conditions. That’s $ 1 for every $ 7 spent on these terms for all Americans over the age of 60 in one year (see note to editors).

Estimates in Australia suggest that if 5 per cent more people over the age of 55 were employed, AUD 48 billion would have a positive impact on the national economy each year. There is currently limited data and information on the economic costs of ageism, and more research is needed to better understand its economic impact, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

“Ageism harms everyone – both old and young. But it is often so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws and institutions – that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights, said Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We must fight frontally against ageism, as a deep-rooted violation of human rights.”

Fight against ageism

The report notes that policies and laws that address ageism, educational activities that boost empathy and correct misconceptions, and intergenerational activities that reduce prejudice help reduce ageism.

All countries and stakeholders are encouraged to use evidence-based strategies, improve data collection and research, and work together to build a movement to change the way we think, feel and act towards age and aging, and to advance progress in UN decade of healthy aging.

Note to editors

The Global Ageism Report gathers the best evidence on the scale, impact and determinants of ageism, effective problem-solving strategies and recommendations for action to create a world suitable for all ages. The report focuses on policy makers, practitioners, researchers, development agencies and members of the private sector and civil society.

  • Ageism arises when age is used to categorize and divide people in ways that lead to harm, disadvantage, and injustice. It can take a variety of forms, including prejudice, discriminatory practices, and institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.
  • Prevalence data based on a survey among 83,034 people in 57 countries showed that every other person has moderate or highly ageistic attitudes (i.e., stereotypes and prejudices). More information: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/9/3159.
  • Excessive health care costs: Ageism affects health through three ways: psychological, behavioral, and physiological. Psychologically, negative age stereotypes can exacerbate stress; behaviorally, negative self-perception of aging predicts poorer health behaviors, such as non-compliance with prescribed medications; physiologically, negative age stereotypes predict harmful changes in the brain decades later, including plaque and ball accumulation and a decrease in hippocampal size.

    In the U.S., ageism over one year has led to an exorbitant cost of $ 63 billion for a wide range of health conditions. That’s $ 1 of the $ 7 spent on the eight most expensive health conditions for all Americans over the age of 60 in one year. Excessive spending on health care due to ageism resulted from the following: (a) the number of Americans aged 60 or older in 2013; (b) the prevalence of interpersonal and targeted ageism based on the percentage of people who agree with the following statements: “You are treated with less politeness and respect than other people”, “Oblivion is a natural phenomenon only from aging” and “The older I get, I feel more useless. “(c) evidence of the impact of such age-related statements on eight health conditions; (d) the prevalence of eight health conditions in 2013, the last year for which health care spending was available; and (e) the Institute for Health Metrics and Assessment ( IHME) costs per person of eight health conditions in 2013. More information: https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/60/1/174/5166947.

Related Links

The Global Ageism Report.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, the WHO works with 194 member states, in six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for the period 2019-2023 is to ensure that one billion more people have universal health insurance, to protect one billion more people from emergencies and to provide further billions of people with better health and well-being. For more information on WHO visit www.who.int. Follow the WHO further Twitter and Facebook.

The Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights it is the UN’s leading human rights entity. We represent a global commitment to promote and protect the full range of human rights and freedoms enshrined in
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To fulfill its mission, UN human rights follow a strong framework of results known as the OHCHR Governance Plan (OMP). This map is based on the results of consultations with Member States, the UN system, civil society, the donor community and the private sector.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), based on the United Nations Charter and guided by the Transformative Agenda for Sustainable Development until 2030, supports the United Nations Development Pillar. UN DESA brings together the global community to work on common solutions to the world’s most important problems. The department helps countries translate their global commitments into national action in the economic, social and environmental spheres. She is a leading analytical voice for promoting inclusion, reducing inequality and eradicating poverty and is a champion in breaking down barriers that keep people in poverty.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health. Our mission is to provide a world where every pregnancy is desired, every birth is safe and the potential of every young person is fulfilled. UNFPA calls for the realization of reproductive rights for all and supports access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services – including voluntary family planning, maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education.



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