The choices people make are supported by the choices that they have.

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 behaviors’. The second is by creating environments that support making the healthier choice the easier choice. The Healthy Communities Approach (HCA) focuses more on this second category.

The Healthy Communities Approach originated in Canada in the late 1980s 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. The HCA employs an active and vibrant process that integrates the principles of health promotion and community development.

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

Supporting action for Healthy Communities in Alberta   

In 2015, the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund (ACPLF) worked alongside 16 rural Alberta communities and three indigenous communities to pilot the Comprehensive Community Cancer Prevention and Screening approach. Since then, the Cancer Screening and Prevention approach has evolved into the Alberta Healthy Communities Initiative.

Communities that took part in the 2016-2019 pilot include the following:

Community Alberta Health Services Zone
St. Paul, Cold Lake, East Prairie Metis Settlement, Edson, Gift Lake Metis Settlement, Hinton, Spirit River/Rycroft, Peavine Metis Settlement North
Evansburg, Stony Plain Edmonton
Bawlf, Castor, Coronation, Mirror Central
Strathmore, Vulcan Calgary
Fort Macleod, Pincher Creek South

What’s happening now?

We are currently building on learnings from the pilot to support an additional 20 rural communities and three Metis Settlements to start new community projects in 2019. Over 60 communities submitted letters of interest in response to an open call issued in late 2018, followed by interviews in early 2019. A variety of criteria were used in the selection process, including geographic distribution, community readiness, and potential supports from community partners.

We are excited to announce that the following communities will participate in the Alberta Healthy Communities Initiative (2019-2022)

Community Alberta Health Services Zone
Barrhead, Bonnyville, Elizabeth Metis Settlement, Edson, Fishing Lake Metis Settlement, Grande Cache, Jasper, Joussard, Sexsmith, Smoky Lake, Valleyview, Wembley, and Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement North
New Sarepta, Thorsby Edmonton
Hanna, Millet, Provost, Stettler Central
Crossfield, High River, Langdon Calgary
Brooks, Raymond South

Health Promotion Facilitators across Alberta will support participating teams to implement the Alberta Healthy Communities Approach in their communities. Additional resources have been updated to assist these communities, including the following:

         - Tools to Build a Healthy Community
         - Strategy Kits

We thank all of the applicants for their submissions.  Stay tuned to hear more about what communities across Alberta are doing to build healthy places and spaces!

Lessons Learned from the pilot:

The initial communities were engaged in a series of evaluation activities throughout and following the pilot to discern the effectiveness of the Healthy Communities Approach. Here is a summary of what we learned.

  • Take time to learn about the community.
  • Community access to a facilitator and resources is recommended.
  • Use multiple strategies to engage participants (e.g. visuals, presentations, and build on existing relationships). Include a strategy to gain political commitment.
  • Invite diverse sectors to participate in the project.
  • Take notes, keep track of meetings and orient new members.
  • Use the results from the Community Capacity Assessment to start a conversation.
  • Employ guiding questions and feedback to identify priority items during group discussions.
  • Allow for small or large group discussion depending on the team’s needs.
  • Ensure that the results are user-friendly and detailed, also include interpretations and explanations of the results.
  • Provide concrete definitions and examples to guide communities to prioritize actions (e.g. provide a template)
  • Ensure coalition members are aware of their responsibilities prior to creating a shared understanding of roles.
  • Break up action plan tasks into smaller working groups based on participants’ interests.
  • Ensure that the language used in evaluation and action plans templates is clear, is geared to the audience, and that templates are easy to complete.
  • Celebrate milestones to keep engagement high.
  • Develop a repository for evaluation tools and resources.

Healthy communities have a multitude of characteristics. How many features apply where you live?


Looking for ways to improve the health of your own community?

Learn about the approach
  1. Rehm et al., as cited in Eastern Health, 2012
  3. BC Healthy Communities
  4. Nutbeam 1986
  5. World Health Organization, 1988
  6. Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (2010) Healthy Communities’: A Backgrounder.
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