A healthy community is when the built, social, economic and natural environments are well balanced to allow people the opportunity to live to your full potential, and to make your community better for yourself and your family, friends, neighbours and others.
There are many factors that contribute to a healthy community. These factors include but are not limited to:
- A culture of healthy choice is the only choice
- Clean and safe physical environment that supports healthy living for all
- Adequate access to food, water, shelter, income/work and recreation for all
- Adequate access to health care services
- Social connection and fair distribution of resources
- Natural environments are protected (air, land, water) and accessible to all
- Everyone’s voice matters in community decision making
We all have a role to play. Health is a collaborative effort and shared responsibility. All sectors have important roles.
We need to act locally, we need to work together, and we need to involve everyone!
This includes health authorities, community organizations, businesses, schools and local government.
At the turn of the twentieth century, when local governments took responsibility for providing clean drinking water and sewers, the health of their communities improved. This was local governments’ first major contribution to health promotion and disease prevention. Today, local governments continue to promote the health and well-being of residents and build healthy communities.
At first glance, local governments may not seem as though they have a role to play in health. But when you look closer, local governments can promote health in their communities through healthy community design, parks and recreation facilities and healthy living programs, health related policies, and building partnerships with non-profit and community organizations.
Local governments continue to play an important role in health. Watch this video for more information: Local Governments and Healthy Communities Video.
"Many would be surprised to learn that the greatest contribution to the health of the nation over the past 150 years was made not by doctors or hospitals but by local government.”
Components of a Healthy Community
There are specific areas, based on science, where we can focus our work in order to reduce illness, injury and death in our communities.
Being born healthy and staying healthy throughout our lives is more than luck or a product of health care. Health is created when we have access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity. Even more than that, we are able to grow and be healthy when we have a safe neighbourhood and an affordable home to live in, and the education and employment that will allow us to purchase the things we need. These social conditions that determine our health – the social determinants of health – are created by the following factors all interacting with each other at different levels (individual, community, society):
- Income and social status
- Employment and working conditions
- Education and literacy
- Childhood experiences
- Physical environments
- Social supports and coping skills
- Healthy behaviours
- Access to health services
- Biology and genetic endowment
- Racism and discrimination
The built environment is the physical structures and human-made environments that are planned, designed and built where we live, learn, work, play and socialize. The healthy built environment is considered through a holistic perspective and includes the five key features:
- Neighbourhood Design
- Transportation Networks
- Natural Environments
- Food Systems
How people interact with built and natural environments can positively or negatively influence physical, mental and social health.
Here are links to connect you to more information about the healthy built and natural environments:
- Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit (BCCDC)
- FACT SHEET: Supporting Health Equity and the Built Environment (BCCDC)
- Built Environments (Plan H)
- Natural Environments (Plan H)
The social and economic environments in which we live, learn, work and play can create a foundation for health – or not. People who lack things like having a place to live, having enough money or being able to attend additional school are less healthy than their neighbours who have those things. Our interactions with other people and the organizations around us, like government, schools and health care, can be good for our health and well-being, or sometimes these interactions can have poor results. It’s important for our social and economic environments to be supportive of everyone’s well-being.
Injury is the leading cause of death for Canadians ages one to 44. The Cost of Injury in Canada Report (2021) identifies falls as the leading cause of injury deaths in Canada, followed by suicide/self-harm, unintentional poisoning and transport incidents. The economic, human and societal costs resulting from injuries is immense. Many injuries are predictable and preventable.
Communities designed with injury prevention in mind also prioritize:
- Safe and accessible transportation systems for all ages and abilities
- The design, quality, and affordability of diverse housing options
- Complete, compact and connected communities
To learn more about initiatives and actions to minimize the risk of preventable injuries, please visit:
Canadians are already experiencing climate-related illness, death and economic damage as a result of our changing climate. While all people will be impacted by the health effects of climate change, some will be more negatively impacted by climate change hazards than others. The effects of climate change will be experienced worse by people who face barriers to affordable housing, food security and health care, and are already at risk of poor health.
Through collaboration and partnerships between the health, local government, and community partners, we can help to support climate change planning in communities. Climate Change Plans created by local governments can help move towards reduced greenhouse gas emissions, prepare and adapt for the impacts of climate change hazards, and build strong and healthy communities.
Extreme heat events occur when there are high temperatures for at least two consecutive days without sufficient cooling down at night. The B.C. Interior is known for its heat and, with climate change, extreme heat events will occur more frequently and last longer. Extreme heat can trigger a wide range of health issues, including heat illness, heart attack, kidney failure and death. The good news is that with planning and preparation many of these health conditions can be prevented.
Radon is the number one environmental cancer-causing agent and most people don’t even know it exists. Radon is a colourless, odourless, radioactive gas released from the break down of uranium found in soils and rocks. Our region has large, natural uranium deposits in the soil. The only way to know if there is radon in your home or building is to test for it.
Creating smoke and vape-free spaces in our public spaces, homes and schools helps reduce the exposure to second- and third-hand smoke and vaping aerosols. This is particularly important for the health and wellness of our children. An additional benefit of smoke-free spaces to the natural environment is also the reduced fire risk due to discarded cigarette butts.
Our health is determined to a large extent by the conditions of everyday life – the social determinants of health. Opportunities for education, healthy food, and housing (among other things) are necessary foundations for good health, and they all cost money. We know that the folks with higher incomes also have better health outcomes, so reducing poverty is key to improving the health of the community.
The Government of British Columbia has set a path to reduce overall poverty in B.C. by 25 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent by 2024 with TogetherBC, BC’s first-ever poverty reduction strategy. Along with this strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act (2018), funding to develop community poverty reduction plans is provided to local and regional governments in the province. Additionally, the federal government has Opportunity for All: Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy (2018).
Our society is currently set up using employment as the primary means of income. Those of us who can’t work due to illness, injury, disability or caregiving responsibilities don’t always have opportunities to make money, and even people with a job (or two!) can’t always support themselves or their family. Tackling the issue of poverty will take all sectors of society working together to help more people get and keep good-paying jobs, and to support people who are not able to work.
Some examples of the ways different levels of government can play a role are:
- Changing tax rates
- Improving employment insurance
- Providing more money for housing projects
- Making post-secondary education more accessible and affordable
- Increasing social assistance rates
- Bringing in affordable child care
- Planning for affordable housing
- Providing easier access to recreation
- Free transit for lower income residents
Social planning involves community and government groups, and organizations working together to address critical social issues facing a community. Goals often relate to improving environments and communities for specific populations such as children and youth, seniors or immigrants, or addressing challenges such as housing, child care, transportation and addiction.
Regardless of the challenge a community faces, an important goal common to social planning is attention to the process a community undergoes to solve its challenges. When communities have a wide range of partnerships to address challenges, greater community knowledge and understanding is gained, strong relationships are formed and solutions can be realized. To read more about social planning and see some examples of social planning councils, please check out the links below:
Age friendly means that a community is planned, designed and built with certain age groups in mind. Often that age group is assumed to be older adults, 65 years and above, but it’s not limited to this population. An age-friendly community can also focus on the early years, five years and below. When both of these target groups are supported to live actively and safely, enjoy good health, be involved in their communities, able to get around without difficulty and able to remain independent for older adults, we create vibrant, healthy and equitable communities.
A socially connected community is a place where everyone feels like they belong. They are places where we feel safe to build relationships and social support networks, know and care about our neighbours, and support citizen engagement. Strong social connections help us get through stressful life events, and contribute to strong and healthy families and communities. This is especially important for people who aren’t always included such as: racialized people, seniors, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, people identifying as LGBTQIA2S+ and more. Building the conditions for social connections benefits individuals’ and communities’ health and well-being.
Housing has a direct impact on our physical and mental health, social well-being and indirectly influences many other determinants of health. This includes influencing where we live, learn, work and play, our income, our social networks and more! Healthy housing is affordable, high quality and in a location and community that meets our needs and supports health and well-being.
These infographics illustrate housing's direct impact on our physical and mental health:
- Infographic: How housing influences our health
- Infographic: Language matters: Let's talk about housing
Housing should be safe and free from physical and environmental hazards that can negatively impact our health. Our housing should be well maintained and free from pests and contaminants such as radon and mold. Our houses also need to be designed in such a way to meet our physical and mobility needs.
When housing costs are less than 30% of our income, we have enough personal and financial resources to access other resources for healthy living such as education, recreation, safe and nutritious food and medical services such as medication and dental care.
How We Support Creating Healthy Communities
We believe everyone has the right to health and well-being. We work with communities and partners to improve the social, economic and environment factors that impact health and address the root causes of chronic diseases – whether it be access to healthy foods, advocating for affordable housing, designing walkable communities or promoting smoke-free environments. We respect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our communities, and want our work to be supportive and meaningful. We do this in the following ways:
We work collaboratively and in partnership with local governments to support the creation of healthy community planning, policy and action. We follow the lead of municipal staff and elected officials who identify their community-specific priorities.
This case study speaks to the partnership formed with the City of Kelowna around their Healthy Housing and Journey Home Strategy. This accompanying infographic speaks to the intersection between housing and health care.
Members of our team live and work in communities around the Interior Health region. We are able to participate on local government and/or community committees and working groups, and bring many partners together to achieve common community goals. We assist with community workshops, bring in health data, share best practices, support grant applications, and make links with health content experts. We are able to help community partners, our own staff, and local government find their way around health care and other government systems, as well as identify priorities for action.
Our Healthy Communities team works with local governments to create physical and social environments that support good health for all. We assist with public engagement, participate in community/local government committees, and share and support grant opportunities. We also work in partnerships with local governments and bring a health equity lens as well as health evidence, data and best practices to local government policy and planning processes, including long-range planning and current land use referrals.
For example, an Official Community Plan (OCP) can influence our built, social, economic and natural environments. Research shows that approximately 60 per cent of what affects our individual health is related to elements found within our everyday lives and the environment that we live in. An OCP impacts how our communities are planned and the environments in which we live, influencing the individual health of community members.
Our Healthy Communities team reviews and responds from a health equity lens to local government land use referrals. We provide health comments for long-range planning documents (e.g., Regional Growth Strategies, Official Community Plans, Transportation Master Plans, etc.) and site-specific referrals (e.g., Rezoning, Development Permits, Temporary Use Permits, etc.).
Local government land use referrals can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The BC Community Health Profiles provide local data by municipality to support collaborative community health planning. They offer an introduction to community health data and present this data at the lowest geographic level available (census sub-division or local health area level, whenever possible), but are not meant to replace the comprehensive Local Health Area (LHA) Profiles that we develop. The LHA Profiles provide an overview of the population in the areas of Population Health, Social Status, Acute Care, Community Care and Health Characteristics.
Every month we develop and distribute a Healthy Communities newsletter, celebrating achievements of local governments in the Interior region related to building healthy communities. Each issue also shares funding opportunities and resources for advancing healthy public policy, as well as events and learning opportunities like conferences and webinars.
If you wish to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, please email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe
- November 2022
- October 2022
- September 2022
- August 2022
- July 2022
- June 2022
- May 2022
- April 2022
- March 2022
- February 2022
- January 2022
These toolkits are tailored to the local and regional government context, and will support healthy public policy and action. These resources have been developed with current research and information from the health sector, and include examples and best practices.
Community Actions to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harms: Local governments are uniquely situated to create healthy environments. Through healthy public policies and partnerships, it's possible to both support the economic and social benefits of alcohol, and reduce negative impacts.
This short toolkit includes information on alcohol consumption in the Interior Health region and the associated health risks and costs, along with suggestions for local government action in the following six areas: public spaces and events, land use planning, community safety, business bylaws, public awareness, and advocacy.
Strong collective action to promote, improve & protect the health & well-being of our communities. Our desired outcome is to see an increase in tangible, on the ground changes to the built environment and/or social environment at the community level.
Our Healthy Community Development Team is a unique blend of technical and practice experts. We consist of Environmental Health Officers and Community Healthy Facilitators that collaborate with Aboriginal, local, and regional governments to improve public health through community design, land-use planning, and the development of health-focused policies, by-laws and community plans.
- We provide health evidence, data and expertise, link health impact and health outcomes to planning and design practice, and encourage people to lead healthy lives.
- We respond to local government community planning referrals.
- We participate in community meetings, committees, and partnerships that support the built and social environments to promote health and wellbeing.
- We take opportunities to share innovation and learnings among clients, partners and community stakeholders
Foundational Principles for Healthy Community Development
These principles underpin our work. The building blocks of developing a health community include the following.
Empower communities to create a shared vision, define the issues, generate solutions, take action and evaluate.
Building healthy communities is complex and involves multiple and diverse stakeholders, and involves all sectors across all levels. Our Healthy Communities team works with local governments, community partner organizations and local champions to address emergent as well as long-term goals.
All levels of government are involved in creating conditions for health and human development.
Build on existing community strengths and assets to create lasting and sustainable solutions.
Policy that is explicitly designed to improve population health but not necessarily developed by the health sector (e.g., active transportation, affordable housing, food systems).
The world is set up in unfair ways that result in some groups experiencing poorer health outcomes than others. To create the conditions where all people can experience good health we need to recognize why these differences exist and make changes.
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