Imagine a place … where everyone has a home, meaningful work and access to affordable healthy food … safe and welcoming places to be active, and feelings of connection to others...

Health is shaped by the places where we spend our time, by our relationships, and the circumstances, in which we live, work, learn, play and age.

Healthy communities are one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate differences in health outcomes between diverse groups.

The Alberta Healthy Communities Approach begins with a comprehensive understanding of community. The diagram and definitions below introduce some of the major concepts used in the Approach. Understanding them will come in handy when applying the strategy kits.

Healthy Places Model

Healthy Places

Communities can be broken into smaller components that make it easier to tackle important local priorities. These smaller parts are environments and settings. Settings are the social spaces and physical places where we spend most of our time -- workplaces, schools or parks. Environments are the circumstances that surround us and affect our choices in these everyday locales. Environments are closely related to the social determinants of health and are important aspects of a healthy and equitable community.

The AHCA steps help communities understand and act upon these environments, or determinants across different settings, supporting comprehensive actions for well-being and equity in health.

Understanding how settings and environments relate to each other will help you apply the AHCA within your community. Here are some familiar settings:

Healthcare settings include places such as community clinics, emergency departments, hospitals, long-term care facilities and doctor’s offices as well as public health services and programs offered within a community. The healthcare system supports individuals through health-related decision making and care planning. While healthcare is important, social determinants of health make a greater impact on individual and population health.

Workplaces are where individuals perform activities related to their employment. Workplaces are 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 workplaces are powerful settings to support health.

Community (or community-at-large) is the broadest of settings since it encompasses all the people, places, spaces and activities organized and delivered community-wide. Examples of major cross-sectoral and community-wide efforts include access to safe, healthy and affordable food; walkable and bicycle-friendly infrastructure; efficient public transit; shade structures in parks and playgrounds; municipal policies and bylaws for tobacco and alcohol reduction/restriction.

Schools are optimal places to model a healthy environment as they are diverse communities on their own that include students, teachers, staff and parents (Alberta Health Services, 2018). Children spend the majority of their waking day at school. Healthy behaviours are learned; children who are exposed to positive messaging and behaviours are more likely to develop positive health attitudes and actions in adulthood (Deschesnes, Martin, & Hill, 2003; University of Alberta, 2014).

Facilities and organizations include places and services such as libraries, recreation centers and shopping centers. Facilities are locations where people gather to share and socialize.


Consider how your community supports healthy choices

  •   Are bike racks available in public spaces, schools and workplaces?
  •   Do vending machines, schools and recreation centres provide healthy food options?
  •   Do schools promote a culture of inclusion?
  •   Does your workplace offer sick leave, personal days or employee wellness days?

Environments are what surround us and affect our everyday choices. The more environments that are addressed when taking action, the broader the impact will be.

The physical environment has built and natural components. Built environment refers to patterns of land use, and the way buildings and transportation systems are made or modified by human hands. The natural environment includes natural ecosystems and habitat, including air and water quality, climate, plant and animal life as well as human interactions with nature.

The social environment is experienced directly and indirectly through relationships. It includes people’s culture and the values that shape our understanding of health and influence unconscious choices, attitudes and behaviours. Feeling connected to others and having a sense of belonging are aspects of the social environment. Social connections encourage people to get more involved in their community.

The economic environment relates to cost and affordability of all the things needed for good health. Affordable food and housing; subsidized recreation; income supports and encouraging buying local are some examples.

The policy environment includes procedures, protocols, rules, regulations and/or laws that support health and wellness in the physical, social and economic environment. Policies can have a big impact in people’s lives and the dynamics of a community.

Leadership & Learning

Community leadership is demonstrated in the hard work of dedicated groups who are willing to invest time and energy for the benefit of all. Communities need leadership from those who are willing to bring people together to advance healthy strategies through charting the course and inspiring others to join.

Learning from experience means making sense of what worked, or not, and what could be tweaked. For this learning to happen, the community needs to acknowledge expectations, take the time to track progress, evaluate and reflect on results to refine the work going forward.

What is a Healthy Community?