Healthy City, Healthy People - Bringing the Social Determinants of Health to City Hall

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For the past 10 years, I’ve been connecting with people, facilitating change, and promoting healthy communities as a teacher, community organizer, health researcher, and policy analyst. My expertise lies in health promotion and public health—working with communities to develop proactive solutions. People often ask: what is public health? The way I see it, it’s about preventing people from going to the hospitals in the first place. This means looking at the things beyond the healthcare system that make our communities healthy and vibrant.

 

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My background in public health integrates my experience in community development working with diverse populations. Public health is about more than just immunization and vaccination. At its core, it is about working across sectors and disciplines, on factors outside the healthcare system, to promote the health and wellness of our communities and people. We are talking about income, housing, education, safety, natural and built environments, etc. These factors are known as the social determinants of health. It is a comprehensive lens that encourages collaboration among different players. This perspective is missing at City Hall.

When I came to Edmonton to study public health, I learned that meaningful community engagement is at the heart of promoting people’s health and wellness. For my research project, I engaged a northern First Nations community to identify, explore, and mobilize more physical activity for its members. This project revealed that land, traditions, and culture, which are all factors outside of the healthcare system, were important to promote physical activity for this community.

So, I carried these lessons with me to the Provincial government where I worked as a policy analyst, specifically on a project called Health in All Policy. This is a tool to assess the impact of a policy on the social determinants of health. It asks the question, how will this policy affect the health of the community, of the people? In what way? Health in All Policy is a research-based tool that is being adopted in many countries and cities worldwide. Thorough and careful consideration of policy impact on health can have significant financial implications for policy decisions. It would allow policymakers to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are well spent.

I would love to see Edmonton develop its policy through a health lens, that incorporates the social determinants of health.