Cassidy Paxton is a former BC Healthy Communities Researcher.
Creating Healthier Communities Through Policy
All policies—even those that don’t directly deal with health—have the ability to enhance or hinder your community’s health and well-being.
As a local government, it’s easy to think of health as being outside your mandate, strictly speaking. However, policies made by local governments in the areas of transportation, land use and community planning, housing, and more affect the social determinants of health, a spectrum of factors such as physical environments, social support networks, and healthy child development. This means that, with each policy decision a local government makes, they either enhance or deteriorate the health of their citizens. It’s a huge responsibility, and for local governments, its fundamental importance in the lives of community members means it’s one that simply can’t be ignored.
For larger population centres, urbanization and climate change have emerged as key issues that must be addressed through policy. A myriad of health and environmental effects arise as a result of urbanization, and with over 86% of British Columbians currently residing in urban areas, it’s crucial for municipalities to take action to mitigate these effects.
Rural communities also face a number of unique challenges that impact health and well-being, and must also take action to promote and improve the health of their residents. Access to health and social services and the capacity to implement changes to the built environment may be limited as a result of a smaller population.
One approach that many local governments are taking to prioritize health and ensure their communities are healthy, equitable, and sustainable for generations is adopting a Healthy Community Strategy.
What is a Healthy Community Strategy?
Healthy community strategies are comprehensive, integrative plans that span across municipal departments and display explicit concern and commitment to health and equity in all policies. The primary goal of healthy community strategies is to create supportive physical and social environments that allow people to achieve their maximum potential.
Through the Healthy Communities approach, local governments, in partnership with various sectors of the community and community members themselves, can work to improve health and well-being for all. Comprehensive and integrative plans, like a Healthy Community Strategy, allow communities to transition from a model of reactive policy-making and crisis-driven interventions towards a proactive policymaking model that values health, well-being, and sustainability.
Benefits of a Healthy Community Strategy
Health is the engine that drives economic growth. There is a clear association between health and economic conditions, as well as a clear socioeconomic gradient – poorer people tend to have worse health outcomes. A healthy community strategy that is committed to health for ALL people can improve the socioeconomic status of those who are generally pushed to the margins of society and, in turn, improve their health outcomes. An investment in health is an investment in the economic sustainability of the community—healthy people are more productive in both society and the workplace.
A healthy community strategy can also contribute to the creation of an equitable and just community. Health inequity is avoidable, but it first requires the recognition that not all community members are afforded the same opportunities to live healthy lives and then taking steps to correct it.
Healthy Community Strategies in Action
Communities like the City of Vancouver, City of Kelowna, and South Surrey/White Rock (see their plan in this PDF) have displayed high levels of political commitment to making their communities the healthiest they can be. These communities, like many others, have acknowledged that there is a relationship between health and policies, and that municipalities have a role in promoting health. As a result, they’ve taken political action to create healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities for now and for generations to come.
Interested in developing your community’s Healthy Community Strategy? BC Healthy Communities, through PlanH’s Healthy Community Capacity Building grant program, is committed to helping local governments create healthier communities through policy initiatives. Local governments are currently able to apply for grant funding to begin creating their own healthy community strategies with support from BC Healthy Communities: visit our PlanH page for more details.
Photo Credit: Vancouver Healthy City Strategy
Author Credit: Cassidy Paxton