The A to Z of Healthy Communities: H

The A to Z of Healthy Communities: H

Oct. 16, 2018 in Tools

Together with Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, we bring you the A to Z of Healthy Communities—a collection of terms you'd find in the Healthy Cities movement. Read the whole alphabet here.

H is for Healthy Public Policy

What is Public Policy?

Public policies are authoritative decisions made by municipal, provincial or federal governments that have an impact on the social, environmental, political and economic conditions of society.1

What is a Healthy Public Policy?

The concept of building healthy public policy was first introduced in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986, and refers to the development of policy in non-health sectors (such as transportation or housing) that intentionally considers and seeks to improve the health of the population.

Healthy public policy is characterized by an explicit concern for health and equity in all areas of policy development, with an aim to create a supportive environment that enables people to live healthy lives.2

Why is Healthy Public Policy Important for a Healthy Community?

Healthy public policy is a key building block of the healthy communities approach,3 and is named as one of the five health promotion action areas in the 1986 Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.4 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.3

The role of local governments in creating healthy public policies

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 all contribute profoundly to the health and well-being of citizens.5 It is therefore important for decision makers to consider a ‘health lens’ when developing public policies, as the health of a population is determined by much more than just the health sector. Education, transportation, housing, environment and urban planning are just a few examples of non-health sectors whose policies have an impact on the health of a community and its citizens.

What methods and tools can support local governments in developing healthy public policies?

A collaborative approach between local governments and key partners from other sectors is essential to creating healthy public policies that foster greater equity and population health outcomes in any community. Joint action across sectors contributes to a range of outcomes such as safer and healthier public services, affordable and accessible housing options, and cleaner, more enjoyable environments.6 For example, when approaching the issue of housing development, it is important to consider how families, lower-income populations and persons with disabilities will be able to access affordable transportation options, safe community green spaces, medical services and affordable childcare as well, all of which exist outside the realm of ‘housing’. Taking these elements into consideration requires coordination and partnership development across multiple sectors to create a supportive, inclusive community for all.

A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is one helpful tool that local governments can use to help ensure a health lens is integrated into public policies. HIAs aim to assist decision makers by showing the various ways in which a policy could influence health (both positively and negatively, and for whom) thereby ensuring that health considerations are not overlooked. HIAs can be used in the development of healthy public policies for economic, housing, law and order, transport, and energy sectors to name a few.7

For more information and examples of how to use a health impact assessment, see the Health Impact Assessment of Transportation and Land Use Activities: Guidebook & Toolkit on the PlanH website.8


Additional Resources

  • PlanH (2017). The big picture: Who can build healthy communities?

  • Morestin, F. (2012). A framework for analyzing public policies: Practical guide. National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy.



1 Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (2017). Healthy public policy toolkit: Understanding and engaging in healthy public policy. Retrieved from


2 Morestin, F. (2012). A framework for analyzing public policies: Practical guide. National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy. Available at:


3 BC Healthy Communities (2018). Our approach: Healthy communities movement.


4 World Health Organization (1986). Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.


5 PlanH (2017). The big picture: Who can build healthy communities?

6 World Health Organization (1986). Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.

7 Kemm, J. (2001). Health impact assessment: A tool for healthy public policy. Health Promotion International, 16(1), pp. 79–85.


8 Metro Vancouver (n.d.). Health impact assessment of transportation and land use activities: Guidebook and toolkit

About the Author

Jennifer Butcher (currently on leave)

Jennifer Butcher (currently on leave)

Community Well-being Specialist

Jennifer brings several years of experience as a learning facilitator and sustainability coach for population health promotion initiatives to her role. She believes in supporting communities to grow and thrive through upstream approaches, cross-sector collaboration, and asset-based strategies.

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