The role of arts in improving health and wellbeing

Study shows the role of the arts in health and wellbeing

A review commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has provided strong evidence for policy development of the arts as an aid to health and wellbeing in the British population.

The review (see below) was authored by Dr Daisy Fancourt, Katey Warran and Henry Aughterson and was published while the country was in lockdown. It was commissioned in response to a World Health Organisation report published late in 2019 that drew on the findings of over 3500 studies on the role of the arts in the prevention of ill health, the promotion of health and the management and treatment of health throughout a human lifespan.

Its three main aims were:

  • to review evidence on the way arts engagement impacts upon social outcomes, youth development and the prevention of mental and physical illness
  • to review the evidence as to how social prescribing programmes utilising the arts can impact on those three elements
  • to provide recommendations as to how the department might invest in future research or academic collaboration to build the evidence base for future policy decisions

The strongest evidence in the review suggests that music was particularly important for infant social development and for speech and language development among infants and children.

Although all manner of arts engagement suggested many other benefits, including improving educational attainment, social cohesion and managing and treating mental illnesses, there was insufficient evidence for the grading system the review demanded. The report did state, however, that, ‘The evidence base on music and educational attainment is very high quality (A), generalisable (A) and applicable (A), but it likely only has the potential for modest impact (C) and is of poor consistency.’

But the review concluded that, ‘Economic evaluations suggest there may be benefits including returns on investment and social returns on investment from implementing arts-based social prescribing.’

The 28 page document will be used by the DCMS to influence future arts funding policy and it will be interesting to see whether the arts sector intersection with socially prescribed health treatment is seen as a worthy target for government investment in future.

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