The Big Picture
We know that there is a strong relationship between people, place, and health.
Many of the influences on our health and well-being—transportation options, community design, recreation opportunities, opportunities to interact with neighbours, and access to healthy food choices—occur in our communities where we live, work and play.
Supporting healthy people by building healthy communities is not new. What perhaps is changing is a growing recognition that health is everyone’s business.
This is why local governments across the province have been working in partnership with many sectors to build the local conditions that support health and well-being for all British Columbians.
More on healthy communities
What is a healthy community?
The health of a community overall has always had a big influence on the health of the people who live there. For example, we now know that our postal code has as much influence on our health and well-being as our genetic code1. In other words, where we live, work, learn and play has a significant impact on how long and well we live.
A healthy community is one in which multiple sectors collaborate to improve the conditions that influence our health and well-being.
PlanH addresses three critical and interconnected themes that are required for a healthy community
Local conditions support healthy behaviours and choices where people live, work, learn, and play.
Vibrant places and spaces cultivate belonging, inclusion, connectedness and engagement.
Well-planned built environments and sustainable natural environments support all citizens to thrive, now and in the future.
―A healthy city is one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments and expanding those community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and in developing to their maximum potential.
Why take action on healthy communities
The health of British Columbians is changing, and not for the better. One in three British Columbians is living with at least one chronic condition1, and one in four British Columbian adults is obese2. What is truly alarming is that these numbers are on the rise as our lifestyles become more sedentary and we make fewer healthy food choices. To compound the problem the cost of health care in our province is escalating. In the last decade, health care costs have doubled to consume over 40% of the provincial budget.3
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we can build the conditions that support the health and well-being of all British Columbians. These conditions for health begin right in our communities—where people live, work, learn, and play.
What the data is saying:
What influences our health?
Evidence shows that 75% of factors that influence our health occur outside the healthcare system11.
Many factors combine together to influence the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Factors such as the context in which we live, our access to healthy food and transportation options, one’s income and education level, as well as our social networks and access to social services all play a role in determining our health. This has led to a great amount of attention being paid to the health of communities, rather than only to the health of individuals (see Figure 1 below).
Many effective actions to influence the key determinants of our health take place at the local level and are led by multiple sectors and citizens working together.
How to build healthy communities
While there is no single formula to creating a healthy community, a ‘healthy communities approach’ is based on the guiding principle that communities themselves determine their preferred vision for the future. As such, communities need to develop their own action plan to improve the quality of life of residents based on the community’s specific characteristics, needs and assets.
What is known internationally as ‘the healthy communities approach’ considers the social, economic, environmental, and physical factors that influence the health of individuals and communities. It is based on five strategies that build on a community’s existing capacity to improve community health and well-being: community involvement, political commitment; healthy public policy; multi-sectoral collaboration; and asset-based community development.
People cannot achieve their full potential for health—physically, socially and mentally—unless they are able to participate in the decisions that impact their well-being. Thus, community involvement and participation are vital for the success of local health objectives. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that empowerment and engagement of individuals is in and of itself health promoting1.
A healthy community provides many different ways in which its members can interact with each other to exchange information about needs and resources, become engaged in the planning and decision-making processes that affect them, and work together to achieve common goals.
For more on actions local governments can take on citizen engagement, please go here.
In a healthy community all sectors – including government, health, business, education, community services, and the voluntary sector – recognize that the health of their community is everyone’s business and work together to support community health and well-being.
Local governments have a key role to play in creating healthy communities, but they cannot play this role alone. The healthy communities approach doesn’t require local governments to assume responsibility for things that fall under the jurisdictions of other orders of government. Rather, it asks locally elected officials to ensure that their decision-making reflects an inclusive, collaborative approach to building communities that are vibrant, sustainable and health promoting on multiple levels.
A key partner for local governments in healthy communities work are regional health authorities. To learn more about partnerships with health authorities, go here.
While creating a healthier community is a larger task than local government alone can undertake, the role of local government is central to the whole process. High-level political commitment (from Mayors and Councils) has been a centerpiece of the healthy communities’ movement worldwide.2
Elected officials and staff can demonstrate their commitment to a healthy community by providing leadership and decision-making that considers health and well-being in policy decisions and planning as well as in the type of partnerships that are developed and maintained.
Healthy Public Policy
‘Healthy public policy’ refers to the development of policy in non-health sectors, such as transportation or food policy, that is designed to improve the health of the population. Healthy public policy is especially important at the local level because many influences on our health—transportation options, community design, recreation opportunities, and access to healthy food choices—occur in our communities where we live, work and play.
Asset-Based Community Development
An ‘asset-based’ approach to community development empowers both individuals and communities by focusing on community strengths and on the skills, knowledge and assets of individuals. Traditional approaches to issues such as poverty, obesity, and homelessness have tended to focus on the deficiencies in communities—the things that aren’t working. The result has been a ‘needs based’ approach where ‘experts’ come in from outside the community to provide interventions.
In contrast, an ‘asset-based’ approach supports communities to build on their own strengths, knowledge and skills to shape their own solutions. Support from outside the community may still be provided, but the communities are leading the way and defining the course of action.
For example public health staff, local government (perhaps in community planning) staff, and possibly community organizations as well (depending on the workshop and context.)
Who can build healthy communities
Building healthy communities requires multiple sectors to work together, and no single partner can do it alone. Some of the sectors that play a key role in building healthy communities include:
From the earliest days of community building in British Columbia, cities and towns have been concerned with community health. Historically, the focus of local government public health efforts was on the prevention of infectious diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, and tuberculosis. From these public health efforts grew many of the basic local government services that we know today such as public works, community planning, housing, building inspection, fire protection, police, and parks.i
Today, planning in communities across BC addresses a broad range of policies and services which focus on the social, economic, environmental and physical aspects of communities. Local governments routinely make decisions and allocate resources for transportation, community design, housing, parks and recreation, and community services. Many local governments also adopt policies related to food security, social planning and tobacco use in public areas. These decisions and policies all contribute profoundly to the health and well-being of citizens.
For more on the role of local governments, see the PlanH guide.
Regional Health Authorities
Regional health authorities in BC govern, plan, and deliver health services within their large regional jurisdictions. They are responsible for identifying health needs, allocating resources and delivering health services in their area.
Health professionals working for your regional health authority understand the health challenges in your region. They have access to local health data, funding, expertise and resources which can help local governments to better understand and address the heath challenges in the community.
Public health staff can work with local governments to help create health-promoting and health-protecting policies, plans and programs that contribute to healthy built and social environments. They can also provide valuable information about health data for your community and region.
Local Schools and School Districts
Local schools and school districts frequently partner with local governments to develop joint use agreements to maximize the use of community facilities and playfields. A number of initiatives are happening across BC to promote healthy schools, such as:
Community Organizations and Non-Profit Partners
Not for profit organizations and community groups are critical partners in healthy community initiatives. Community organization representatives offer valuable expertise, knowledge, and relationships with diverse groups in the community. Community partners can play a number of key roles:
Learn more about increasing public involvement including civic engagement and community capacity building here.