Imagine a place … where everyone has a home and meaningful work; where people feel safe and have access to affordable, healthy food; where they have access to health care, and feel connected to others...
Health is shaped by the places where we spend our time, by our relationships, and the circumstances in which we live. Wellness and well-being improve when people have access to affordable healthy options where they live, work, learn, play and age. When communities have safe and welcoming green spaces and walking paths, being physically active is easier. When quality, affordable food outlets are built close to where people live, it’s easier to eat nutritious food. When communities connect to address local issues, their members are empowered, effective solutions are created and results achieved.
A healthy community is like a level table where everyone has fair access to the essential resources that shape health – supportive relationships, affordable housing, decent work, opportunities for recreation, and policies that reduce or eliminate harm (alcohol and tobacco reduction for instance), and so on.
Healthy communities are one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate differences in health outcomes between diverse groups. Such conditions make it easier for people to support one another and work toward a common goal.
Communities are complex, yet can be broken into familiar parts that make it easier to tackle important local priorities. Those pieces and parts are known as settings and environments- the physical places and social spaces where we lead our everyday lives.
Settings make up the places where we spend our time. They are also where people actively use and shape their surroundings and thus create or solve problems relating to health and wellbeing. Some familiar community settings are schools, workplaces and healthcare facilities.
Schools are institutions that provide learning spaces and learning environments for the teaching of children and young people. Schools can model a healthy environment. When healthy options are available at a younger age, there is greater likelihood that young people carry positive health choices into adulthood. Policies around healthy cafeteria and vending options, physical activity opportunities, and alcohol and tobacco reduction programs are ways that schools can create health promoting environments.
Workplaces are often distinguished by industry type and size; a location where a worker performs activities related to their employment, and includes but is not limited to a facility or site. A vehicle or mobile equipment used as part of the job is also considered a workplace. Many adults spend the majority of their day at work, so it’s no surprise that the workplace is a powerful setting to support health. Workplaces also have the resources and systems to implement initiatives on a broad scale. Workplace wellness policies and activities, such as time for physical activity, on-site kitchen and eating areas and healthy food options, sun-safety training, weight management and shift-work programs, and/or on-site health screening help create a healthier and more productive workforce.
Healthcare facilities include places such as doctor’s offices, emergency departments, hospitals and long term care facilities, as well as public health services and programs offered in a community.
The health system supports individuals through healthcare decision making and care planning, making connections to community resources and supports, and increasing access to health promotion opportunities to prevent avoidable illness and promote the health and well-being of Albertans within and between communities. In practice, this could mean that an individual who is admitted to hospital or visits their family doctor is asked about preventable risk factors for chronic disease, such as tobacco use, engaged in a ‘healthy conversation’ and connected on to tobacco cessation or other identified healthy lifestyle supports and services in the community.
Facilities and organizations:
Facilities and organizations provide a broad range of human services and access to facilities within the community. Human services can include various kinds of social support and community connections. Facilities can include libraries, recreation centres, arenas and many others.
Community encompasses all the people, places, spaces, and activities organized and delivered community-wide. While members usually share a common bond no two communities are alike; ranging in interests, size, geography, culture and many other features. Today, social media has made virtual communities possible.
Community-wide initiatives impact many more people than a single smaller effort. Access to safe, healthy, and affordable food, walkable and bicycle friendly infrastructure, public transit, shade structures in parks and playgrounds, tobacco-free and municipal alcohol reduction policies and bylaws are major multi-sectoral efforts to create healthy communities.
Environments are what surrounds us and affect our everyday choices. How our communities are designed (built environment), how individuals are supported within communities (social environment), how affordable it is (economic environment), and the policies that are in effect all impact our well-being.
The physical environment has built and natural components. The built environment includes land use patterns, transportation systems, and building design as well as the human activity that occurs within in them. Natural ecosystems and habitat, including air and water quality, global climate, plant and animal life make up the natural environment, as well as human interactions with nature. Where we live, work and play and how we get around are all part of the physical environment. Some examples of the physical environment are: public transit, walking paths, quality, quantity and type of food outlets, and community gardens.
The social environment is experienced directly and indirectly through our relationships. It also includes the culture, values and social norms that we grow up in, and are influenced by. Feeling connected to others, a sense of belonging, and being part of something bigger than one-self are all aspects of the social environment. So is getting involved with others to make your community a better place for all.
The economic environment is the realm of cost and affordability of all the things needed for good health: food, housing, recreation, and income supports to name a few, plus improving the economic situation of a location.
The policy environment includes procedures, protocols, rules, regulations and/or laws that support health and wellness in the physical, social and economic environment. Policy is effective because it does not rely on voluntary effort, or good intentions, to achieve its purpose and can be broadly applied and enforced. An example of healthy public policy is taxing tobacco and other harmful substances to discourage their use.