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The choices people make are supported by the choices that they have1

There are two broad ways to improve peoples’ health and wellness. The most common is by encouraging individuals to change certain health habits such as eating a healthy diet, becoming active and eliminating tobacco use, among other ‘health behaviours’. The second is by creating environments that support making the healthier choice the easier choice. The Healthy Communities Approach focuses more on the second category.

The Healthy Communities Approach originated in Canada in the late 1980’s and is being used in cities, towns and communities all over the world. “Healthy Community initiatives are based on the social determinants of health, which encompass key aspects of people’s living and working circumstances that affect peoples’ health and well-being. It employs an active and vibrant process that integrates the principles of health promotion and community development within a multi-sector community planning framework”2.

The core values of the Healthy Communities Approach are capacity building and empowerment of individuals, organizations and communities3

Produced by BC Healthy Communities Society the following video reveals the root causes of ill-health and the fundamental role communities play in creating environments that promote health and well-being.

Source: PlanH BC Healthy Communities Society

As the video shows, healthy communities have a multitude of characteristics. How many features apply where you live?

  • Engaged citizens
  • A vibrant economy
  • Affordable housing
  • Protected parks & green space
  • Accessible community services
  • Thriving neighbourhoods
  • Clean air and water
  • A sustainable environment
  • Ethnic and cultural diversity
  • Healthy public policy
  • Opportunities to make healthy choices

The Healthy Communities Approach

This approach is made up of the following 5 essential building blocks:

  • Community engagement

    Community engagement is a process of meaningfully involving communities in determining priority areas for action plans and decision-making.

  • Multi-sectoral collaboration

    Multi-sectoral collaboration is a recognized relationship between part or parts of different sectors of society that have been formed to take action on an issue to achieve health outcomes in a way which is more effective, efficient or sustainable than might be achieved by the health sector acting alone (Nutbeam, 1986).

  • Asset-based community development

    Asset-based community development is an approach that empowers both individuals and communities by focusing on community strengths and on the skills, knowledge and assets of all those who live, work and play there.

  • Political commitment

    Political commitment is the commitment to a healthy community by providing leadership and decision making that considers health and wellbeing in policy decisions and planning.

  • Healthy public policy

    Healthy public policy is focused on health and equity in all areas of policy and accountability (World Health Organization, 1988). It goes beyond health policy, with the motto of "health in all policies", including agriculture, trade, education, industry and communication.

The Healthy Communities Approach strengthens the community’s capacity to engage citizens, politicians, and other stakeholders, giving them a voice and responsibility for the long-term health and wellbeing of their community.