September 3, 2016  |  

The World YMCA launches its position paper on health

The World YMCA launches its position paper on health.

The position paper was approved the World’s YMCA Executive Committee in April 2016 to reflect our positions in relation to health related issues for young people.


World YMCA- Position Paper:  HEALTH

This global health position paper seeks to promote the work of YMCAs throughout the world to build healthier individuals, families, and communities by engaging with those communities, building awareness of health issues, developing local programmes which address these health challenges and advocate for policy and social change. Special emphasis should be on issues of mental health, sexual & reproductive health, nutrition, body image and drug/alcohol abuse, especially for young people.


Health is our most important asset.  Individuals want to preserve, protect and promote their own health and the health of their families, and communities.  In most countries, health is seen as a human right, as a shared responsibility between an individual, their family, their community and the health/medical institutions in the larger society.

There are social, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors, along with different ideologies and paradigms, which influence the ways in which people care for their health.  People need culturally appropriate and affordable access to evidence based health information and health care services in order to maintain their health or address their needs.  Health is a local and personal concept.   Yet, disease and illness know no borders. Both pathogens and lifestyles move around the world and the people of every country share the risks.   As one human species, one human family, we all share the same vulnerabilities, and by protecting each other, we also protect ourselves.

There are many social determinants of health such as where people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between populations and countries[1]. Some of these determinants are shown here:


YMCAs are well positioned to address these, especially at local and national levels through program responses and advocacy efforts.

A lot of work in health promotion and disease prevention has targeted individual behaviour, but many things, including where we work, eat, play and live, and our access to work and education, all affect our health. It is not enough to simply urge the population to eat better and exercise more. We need to look at the wider systems that can help or hinder behaviours that cause chronic health problems.

We need to look in depth at our communities, our food systems, our environments and work places and how each of these interacts to create communities in which healthy behaviours are the easier, more sustainable choices[2]

YMCAs should also seek innovative ways to reach vulnerable populations in both developed and developing countries.  They should also reach out to like-minded organisations to work together on health outcomes.


One Million Voices

The World YMCA has recently undertaken the largest ever global research, surveying almost 20,000 young people between the ages of 15 – 24 randomly in 60 countries.  The results of this research has indicated that young people have particular health needs, with the top health issues being mental health and sexual/reproductive health.  Young people also want more health-related information on nutrition, body image and drug/alcohol abuse.[3]

It is important that the outcomes of this research (and future research) is used to help shape strategy and policies.  Further, it is important to identify, collect and share innovative examples of effective programs and people who are already engaged in these programs at local YMCAs throughout the world.


The YMCA believes that:

  • A healthy society is also more economically productive
    • There is a benefit to reduce the burden of disease throughout the world and improve health status. As a result, there is an enormous need to strengthen organizations and programs that are being implemented by the three sectors of society, public, private and civil society.
  • Health is not just a good thing to aspire to, it is an essential part of being human and a shared responsibility to help all people develop their full potential as children of God.
    • Since its inception, YMCAs throughout the world, have focused on helping people to be healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit, to develop their full potential as children of God. The YMCA mission “That we may all be one” (John XVII, chapter 21) promotes the concept that we are all one human family, and that in order for each of us to be healthy, we all need to be healthy.
    • This concept of a holistic approach to health is reflected in the WHO declaration at Alma Ata in 1978, in which health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right and that the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal whose realization requires the action of many other social and economic sectors in addition to the health sector.”
  • Empowering people to be healthy in body, mind and spirit is only possible by building healthy communities and addressing social determinants.

All young people should have access to good quality and affordable health care and opportunities to practice physical activities.  This should include on an equal basis healthcare and services focused both on physical and emotional wellbeing

  • Young people have a responsibility to preserve and protect their own health and that of the communities in which they live.
  • Young people should be given opportunities to learn and advocate on issues relating to health and healthy living.
  • Every young person has the ability to contribute to improving their own health and the health of the communities in which they live.


As a result, YMCAs are encouraged to take the following actions:

  • YMCAs will address the health of their community as a core strategic goal
  • YMCAs will call on all Governments to commit to health and health equity as a political priority
  • YMCAs will address the burden of non-communicable diseases through evidence based programme responses
  • YMCAs will work with their community leaders to address the social determinants of health
  • YMCAs will continue to strongly advocate for the health of all, but especially children and young people
  • YMCAs will collaborate, and coordinate with other organizations in the public, private and civil sectors to foster healthier individuals, families and communities
  • YMCAs will share examples of innovative and effective programming and connect people that they have developed or encountered in their efforts at health promotion and building healthier communities








[3] One Million Voices Research 2015

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