Two BC tools for healthier built environments

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

We are lucky in B.C. to have two useful initiatives to help us create healthier built environment

The first, which I described briefly last week, is the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit. The second is a B.C. Ministry of Health-funded initiative, PlanH, which “facilitates local government learning, partnership development and planning for healthier communities.” I will describe them both here.

(Full disclosure: PlanH was developed and is implemented on behalf of the ministry by the non-profit B.C. Healthy Communities Society, of which I am vice-chair of the board.)

For each of the five key elements of the built environment that the toolkit considers — neighbourhood design, transportation networks, natural environments, food systems and housing — it provides a chart showing the impact on the built environment and the strongest research correlations found in evidence reviews. I briefly covered the first two elements last week, so here I want to examine the others.

For the natural environment, the focus is on preserving and connecting environmentally sensitive areas, expanding natural elements across the landscape and maximizing the opportunity for everyone to access these natural environments. By doing so, we can increase the tree canopy, reduce urban air pollution and create cooler urban areas. (For a great discussion of the health benefits of trees and urban forests see the book Planet Heart by Dr. Francois Reeves, an interventionist cardiologist in Montreal.)

Among the health benefits identified in the toolkit for which there is strong evidence are reduced deaths from heart and urban heat events; improved mental health and social well-being; increased physical activity; and improved respiratory health. Other benefits include reduced health-care costs, energy savings, reduced pollution-control costs, and increased recreation and tourism.

Turning to food systems, the toolkit focuses on increasing equitable access to affordable and healthy food options, protecting agricultural land, increasing the capacity of local food systems, and supporting community-based food programs such as community gardens and community kitchens.

The health-related impacts of these approaches include improved diet quality and social well-being. Evidence suggests community kitchens, such as the Shelbourne Community Kitchen in Saanich, are particularly useful.

This small NGO provides small-group cooking, a pantry and gardening programs that help participants from low-income families acquire food skills and learn to access nutritious food affordably, while at the same time building community.

Finally, the toolkit looks at four approaches to creating healthy housing, particularly through prioritizing affordable quality housing options, especially for marginalized groups. The evidence supports the need for diverse housing forms and tenure types, located so as to avoid environmental hazards. There are many health benefits, including improved overall health and social well-being and reduced domestic abuse, crime and violence. (I will return to the topic of healthy housing in a future column.)

While the toolkit provides evidence and is intended primarily for planners, PlanH is more concerned with how to bring the health implications of decisions to the attention of municipal governments and citizens to support “leading-edge practices for collaborative local action.” It focuses on three key interconnected themes: Healthy people, a healthy society and healthy environments.

In considering healthy people, PlanH emphasizes that our health behaviours and choices are shaped by local social and environmental conditions. We need to create “vibrant places and spaces [that] cultivate belonging, inclusion, connectedness and engagement” in the context of “well-planned built environments and sustainable natural environments.”

To do so, PlanH helps local governments and their citizens learn about these issues and provides action guides and other practical resources and tools. It helps them connect and build relationships with community partners in other sectors (including regional health authorities) and with other local governments. And it helps them innovate with a funding program to support action, and by sharing success stories from around B.C. and beyond.

Together, these two initiatives give municipal governments, urban planners and citizens powerful support to help them make decisions that will improve health and well-being, which is surely one of their most important roles. So if you want healthier built environments in which to lead your life, raise a family and grow old, you might want to talk to your local government, community association and neighbours about the toolkit and PlanH.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

Originally published in Times Colonist, 29 July 2018

Deepest Well-Trauma and Social Inequities

By Jennifer Wile

There are many facets to stories of childhood trauma, and many layers. When I was 4 years old, I developed, in rapid succession, strep throat, scarlet fever, and then rheumatic fever. My older brother started his 10 year journey of obesity. We had both been victims of violence and other abuse from my earliest memory. Then as a teenager and in my early twenties, I had multiple surgeries requiring general anesthesia for various rare but treatable physical ailments – strangely all in the same location, but caused by different factors. As an adult, I worked on the emotional effects of PTSD best helped through cognitive behavioral therapy. I discovered exercise helped my mood significantly. Even so, I did not consider the the stress of my childhood might have affected my body until I read Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.

Trauma is no stranger to anyone: if we haven’t experienced ourselves, we know a loved one who has experienced or witnessed violence, abuse or neglect. When I read this book, I could not help but think of the children who are now separated from their parents at the borders as well as of children fleeing Syria. There are sadly many places where trauma is a fact of life, and the inner city can be one of them. It is a matter of public as well as individual health.

WHO recognizes that social conditions are important factors in health, and the all contribute to our total health. Nadine Burke Harris gives a gripping account of her exploration of the link between adverse childhood experience or (ACE) and toxic stress. She is a social innovator in public health and serves a vibrant and economically disadvantaged community, in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point (BHP). She describes the challenges she faced personally and professionally when she opened the Center for Youth Wellness (CYW) as well as her attempts to have ACE and toxic stress, recognized as serious issue in children’s health, which included getting pediatricians to use screening protocols for ACE in pediatric assessments.

Burke Harris, a pediatrician with a Master’s in Public Health, writes with passion about connecting the stress of her patients with their emotional and physical well-being. When offering free pediatric care to children via her clinic, CYW, in BHP, an area that is on the extreme end of San Francisco’s social and economic inequality, Burke Harris saw clear relationships between the trauma that the community’s children experienced and their emotional and physical health. Toxic stress can, and often does, manifest itself in disease and poor health. Her examination discusses how poverty in the inner city can result in greater incidence of poor health with difficult living conditions, more exposure to violence, and untreated mental illness. While San Francisco’s median income was above $100,000 in 2016, City-Data shows that 31% of residents of Bayview Hunters Point live below the poverty line as of the last U.S. Census.

Poverty contributes to trauma, but Burke Harris reminds her audiences that trauma crosses all socio-economic boundaries. She tells us not only the stories of the children that she treated, and still treats, at the BHP Center, but also about her personal journey of trauma. Trauma does not stop in the wealthier neighborhoods. Helping overcome childhood trauma depends on your caregiver. There are engaged and nurturing caregivers in every community, just as there are neglectful caregivers in any community; however, if you live in inner city poverty, your chance of seeing violence randomly outside the home is likely. In one of Burke Harris’ case studies, a teenage boy, recovering well from childhood abuse, sees his best friend is killed on the street in front of him. Understandably, this incident is a setback for his health. The children Burke-Harris treated suffer from multiple adverse reactions, and have debilitating physical and psychological challenges ranging from asthma, obesity, failure to thrive, to stunted growth.

Although Burke-Harris’ accounts of traumatic experience can be shattering, such as the boy who stopped growing at age four when he trauma is exclusive to inner city poverty. Burke Harris reminds her audience repeatedly that toxic stress is an issue in any income bracket. Bringing this to a wider audience, Burke Harris shows us that society suffers when it ignores childhood trauma.

Thankfully, something can be done to help children (and adults) suffering from toxic stress. In fact, according to Burke Harris, part of the antidote to toxic stress is truly integrated health treatment including a combination of healthy relationships, counselling, meditation, exercise, and nutrition. The caregiver and their response to trauma play a huge role, but, sadly for those in underserved areas, so do the resources available to the child.

Though the subject matter is tough, the book and its author are inspiring, positive and passionate. This title comes as a hardcopy, eBook and is also available as an audiobook narrated by the author, which I highly recommend.

Watch Dr. Nadine Burke Harris here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk or find her book at your local library in audio, eBook or hardcopy: Burke Harris, Nadine. (2018) The deepest well: Dealing with the long-term effects of childhood adversity. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

Does Mental Health matter most?

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

There is an interesting common thread underlying many of my recent columns. It is the question in my title: Does mental health matter most? By which I mean, in high-income countries in the 21st century, does mental health matter more than physical health? Which in turn means, in terms of public health, does mental health promotion and the prevention of mental disorders matter more than preventing heart disease, cancer and other physical disorders?

There are many threads to my emerging argument. To begin with, the 70 year-old definition of health from the World Health Organisation is that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. Since social wellbeing is primarily about how we feel about and respond to our links to and relationships with others in our families and communities, it means a significant part of the definition is really about our mental wellbeing.

Add to this the relationship between the mind and the body – our state of mind affects our neuro-hormonal and immune systems, and the latter is involved in allergy, auto-immune disease, and the detection and elimination of both infection and abnormal cancer cells – and our state of mind assumes an even greater importance.

Another important issue is the changing pattern of disease and death. Globally, the World Health Organisation noted last year, “Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide” – depression, we should note, is only one form of mental ill health. WHO also notes that there are “strong links between depression and other non-communicable disorders and diseases” and that “depression increases the risk of substance use disorders and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease”, while pointing out that “the opposite is also true . . . people with these other conditions have a higher risk of depression”.

We can also see the importance of mental health in the decline in life expectancy in the USA in each of the past 2 years, the first time this has happened in more than 60 years. But that decline is driven not by physical disorders such as heart disease and cancer but from the so-called ‘diseases of despair’; alcohol and drug use and suicide, which are largely mental and social disorders. And as I pondered in my last column, we may need to consider whether the growing concern about the state of our environment is adding to that despair.

Another factor to consider is the impact of poverty and inequality. Absolute poverty is unhealthy because people lack the basic necessities for life and health – clean water, food, shelter and so on – and we have some of that in Canada. But for the most part our problems are now those of relative poverty. Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, in their book “The Spirit Level”, showed that in high-income countries, a range of health and social outcomes are not related to national income per person, but to the degree of inequality.

It seems that being lower in the ‘pecking order’ of society is harmful to health because we experience inequality as a lower sense of self-esteem and self-worth, relative powerlessness and even helplessness. All of which are mental and social experiences that, again, can translate into physical conditions.

The implication is that if we want to have a healthy population we need to pay much more attention to mental and social wellbeing than we have been doing. We need to provide more funding to research focused on understanding the root causes of mental and social health problems, and to policies and programming for preventing mental and social health problems, as we do to understanding and preventing heart disease and cancer – because we have under-invested on the mental health side.

Beyond that, we need to give at least as much attention to promoting mental and social wellbeing as we do to promoting physical wellbeing and fitness, recognizing that they are mutually beneficial. What would it take to create mentally healthy families, schools, workplaces, colleges and universities? How do we help people maintain mental wellbeing in the face of adversity, or as they age? How do we re-focus our society – including public health – to ensure mental health matters at least as much as physical health – maybe more.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

Originally published in Times Colonist, 20 March 2018

Being part of the Canadian Co-operative movement

By Marco Zenone

As we start the new year I wanted to share some reflections of one of my highlights for 2017. This past November, I was exceptionally fortunate to be invited to represent Bridge for Health co-op at the Canada Co-operative & Mutuals National Meeting in Ottawa and be recognized as an emerging co-operative champion. We were invited to the conference for our exceptional contributions to meaningful youth engagement and emerging recognition of our innovative, process based outlook on workplace health and well-being.

The conference was an informative and engaging 4-day event, that included a parliamentary reception with several Members of Parliament. Our role in the conference was to share our story as an emerging cooperative to the conference attendees and provide a glimpse into our rationale for utilizing the cooperative model. It was a fantastic experience to share the work of Bridge for Health to the participants of the conference. I shared the story of how Bridge for Health was developed: from the idea that health is more than just healthcare. I further explained that all our work is socially minded and we collaboratively and empirically rally around common causes to promote holistic and upstream change in local, national, and international contexts. Conference participants were very impressed by how much our cooperative has accomplished in the just over a year since we were formally created.

I learned that the number of cooperatives has been increasing and that there have been sizeable investments from the private sector to support the cooperative movement in Canada. The federal government has noted that cooperatives are clearly the best type of organization to work towards the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals; and this conference had a clear focus to create an actionable strategy to obtain more concrete federal support for cooperatives.

To me, this conference solidified how innovative the Bridge for Health model is and how strong a force we can be to genuinely ignite sustainable change. Utilizing the cooperative model is innovative; however, I think we are redefining what a cooperative model can accomplish. We are adopting an approach that is focused on setting a platform for equity and well-being that can be adopted in any context and on any issue. As Bridge for Health grows and continues to inspire future members, I have no doubt we will be continued to be seen as a field leader and be recognized as true innovators.

 

 

 

Look upstream to improve mental health

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

 

A colleague once remarked that people are so busy dealing with the important that they don’t have time to deal with the critical. That applies to the healthcare system as a whole. It is so busy dealing with people who are ill or injured that it doesn’t give much priority to looking upstream and trying to stop people becoming sick in the first place.

That especially applies to the field of mental health and addictions, which has been described as the orphan of the health care system, neglected and underfunded. But in fact mental health problems are among the most common and most expensive health problems today. The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto reports that “the disease burden of mental illness and addiction in Ontario is 1.5 times higher than all cancers put together”.

CAMH reports that “in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem” (including dementia) and that “mental illness is a leading cause of disability” and can markedly shorten life. Not surprisingly, people with mental illness have high rates of unemployment and work absence; at least half-a-million employed Canadians are off work due to a mental health problem every week. The overall societal cost of mental illness cost in Canada in 2011 was estimated in one study to be about $42 billion, with half that being health care costs.

This is why the creation of a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in BC is an interesting development. Time will tell whether it proves to be an important strategy to focus attention on a long-neglected issue or whether, as some have suggested, it divides resources and attention and becomes a problem. One thing is for sure; it highlights the growing importance of mental health problems in society.

But simply managing the problems of people with mental disorders or addictions is not enough; we need to reduce the toll of mental health in our communities. This means the new Ministry needs to focus on why people develop mental health problems in the first place, how we can prevent that happening, and how we can improve the overall mental health of the population.

Happily, BC has developed quite a strong focus on the prevention of mental health problems and on mental health promotion in the past decade. Its 10-year mental health strategy, adopted in 2010 and updated in 2017, states “Research tells us that doing a better job of promoting mental wellness, preventing mental illness and harmful substance use, and intervening at the beginning of illness, especially for our children and youth is a wise investment”.

As with much else in public health, what this means in practice is that we need to look well beyond the health care system, to society as a whole. A recent report from the UK’s Faculty of Public Health suggests what needs to be done.

First, we need to focus on childhood factors, and in particular, family relationships. Infants and young children need to feel secure in their attachment to their family, which enables them to develop trust in others. Failure to do so “leads to lifelong problems in learning, behaviour, resilience, coping, and both physical and mental health”. Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, parental substance use or mental illness compound the problems, and call for early intervention.

In addition to good parenting, the school environment is also important: “The school ethos, mental wellbeing of teachers, relationships with peers and prevalence of bullying all matter”. And as young people transition from school to college or work – “a time of upheaval and uncertainty” – strong relationships with caring friends and adults are important, while loneliness is a problem. This continues into adultood, where stable relationships and mentally healthy workplaces are important, while unemployment increases the risk of anxiety or depression by 4 to 10 times.

Good mental health benefits us all, but clearly is a much bigger issue than the new Ministry can address on its own. It will need to engage the whole of government and the wider society – schools, workplaces and communities – in creating a mentally healthy society. In my next column, I will discuss in more depth how this can be done.

© Trevor Hancock, 2017

Originally Published in Times Colonist

Canada 15,000/150: Wellbeing for the seventh generation

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

This is National Aboriginal Day (June 21st) and we are just 10 days away from Canada Day. So it is a suitable time to reflect on Canada 150, or – as Inuk film-maker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril rightly pointed out in one of the recent Walrus Talks – Canada 15,000. After all, before the two ‘founding nations’ of Canada appeared on the scene back in the 16th century, the real founding nations had been here some 14,000 years.

Just as Indigenous people were not celebrating in 1992 the 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Columbus, I can’t imagine there will be many celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. And who can blame them? The harm inflicted on the Indigenous people of the Americas in the past 500 years has been devastating, as has been the history of the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous people since 1867, as demonstrated in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

While we can’t undo that history – and indeed need to face it and accept it – we can create a different story for the next 150 years, and there is no better time to be thinking about this than right now. Moreover, in doing so, we can acknowledge an approach credited to Indigenous ways of thinking, namely to plan for the 7th generation. Since a generation is roughly 20 – 25 years, 7 generations takes us out about 150 years.

As a long-time planner and futurist, I am well aware of the difficulty of planning for a time horizon of 150 years, or even 50 years. Sadly, our political cycles do not reflect the reality of the seventh generation viewpoint, indeed they barely reflect the next generation. But here are some ways to think about what connects the present to the next 100 years or more, and why today’s decisions are so important for the long term.

First, consider that the buildings and infrastructure we create are with us for 50 – 100 years or more. The suburban sprawl we have created since the 1950s still shapes our way of life, our transportation systems, our energy use and our impacts on human and ecosystem health, and will do so for decades to come.

Next, recognize that a female foetus in her mother’s womb today contains within her developing ovaries the eggs that one day, some 20 years hence, will be her children. If those infants live to be 80 – our current life expectancy, although by no means predictive – then the mother of that yet-to-be-born infant carries within her the eggs that will be her elderly grandchildren some 100 years ahead.

Some of our most toxic pollutants are called persistent organic pollutants because they were designed to be persistent; unfortunately, this means that we and our descendants will carry body burdens of them throughout our lives.

The carbon dioxide we are spewing out – and that Donald Trump wants to increase – has an atmospheric lifetime of up to 200 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and will thus continue to overheat the planet. And the species extinctions we are creating at 10 – 100 times the base rate over the past 10,000 years, are forever.

But perhaps the new BC government – more attuned as it is to environmental sustainability and social justice – could use the opportunity afforded by Canada 15,000/150 to initiate a conversation – in partnership with Indigenous people in particular – about our long-term responsibilities and our duty to future generations.

Fundamentally, it is unethical for us to consume the resources and harm the natural systems that our descendants will depend upon for their own wellbeing; this is the ethical principle of intergenerational justice. Arguably, it is also unethical for us to appropriate ecosystems and resources that other species require for their own survival; the Earth is not ‘ours’ alone, we share it with many other species, many of which we depend upon for our own survival.

So – much as we are doing here in Victoria with our ‘Conversations for a One Planet Region’ – as we mark Canada 15,000/150, lets think about the next 150 years, the next seven generations, and how we ensure a more healthy just and sustainable life for them.

© Trevor Hancock, 2017

Originally published in Times Colonist June 18, 2017

 

Healthy Corner Stores-well, why not?

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at a conference in the US on adolescent health. One of my fellow speakers spoke with energy and passion about the need for young people to eat a more healthy diet. But it was a very American speech, rooted in an ethos of personal choices and individual responsibility. While noting that our food is laced with fructose and high levels of sugar and fat (oddly, I don’t recall her mentioning salt or lack of dietary fibre) she did not suggest that we should be regulating the food industry that provides this unhealthy diet.

I pointed this out rather firmly, suggesting that we should. Repeating Nancy Milio’s famous phrase, I said we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice. But all too often we make the unhealthy choice easy – and then wonder why people make unhealthy choices. Unsurprisingly, this suggestion was not met with much enthusiasm. Nor was another questioner who wondered how people in low-income communities, faced with ‘food deserts’, could make healthy choices when all they had were corner stores and fast-food restaurants. The speaker suggested they should create community gardens.

I have nothing against community gardens, indeed I welcome them for all sorts of good reasons; at their best they strengthen community relationships, provide exercise, green havens and links to nature, even vegetables and fruit – and they might save some people some money. But I don’t see them as a viable solution for people who live in low-income food deserts.

Instead I suggest another approach: The Healthy Corner Store. This approach was pioneered in 2004 by the Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based non-profit, in partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The Food Trust noted that in low-income communities, where supermarkets are often lacking, “families depend on corner stores for food purchases. The choices at these stores are often limited to packaged food and very little, if any, fresh produce.”

So they set out to change that, working with local stores and their communities. The Philadelphia network now involves more than 600 corner stores. A 2014 evaluation of the Philadelphia initiative found that it resulted in “healthier choices, healthier businesses and healthier communities” and the network has now gone national.

This approach is now underway in Canada, with an initiative launched by the Toronto Food Policy Council in 2014 and by the Food Policy Lab and others in Newfoundland in 2015. The Toronto initiative began by mapping areas of the city where there was lack of access to healthy food and where low income populations live.

They selected a pilot convenience store in a high-rise complex in East Scarborough whose owners were keen to sell healthier and more affordable food. Working with the local community, including the youth, they identified local healthy food preferences and worked to strengthen relationships between the community and the store owners. Then they worked with the owners to improve their business planning, including purchasing, marketing and signage.

The product will be a ‘how to’ toolkit they hope to take to some of the other 2,000 convenience stores across the city. The intent is to boost sales and profits in the store, which makes it an attractive option for other stores to adopt, although it is too soon to tell how much this will change people’s diets.

The Newfoundland project is based on the recognition that “Newfoundland and Labrador has the most corner stores per capita, as well as the highest proportion of corner stores in rural areas, of all of the provinces or territories in Canada”, according to the Food First NL website. In rural communities, they note, these stores are also important community hubs, which means these stores can help strengthen community as well as improve healthy food choices. As in Toronto, they have started with a pilot store from which they are learning, but then plan to expand across the province.

Of course, changing our food culture takes a long time, especially in competition with the powerful marketing of fast food and junk food. But this seems like a worthwhile effort that could readily be adopted in BC, both in big cities such as Vancouver and in small, rural communities.

© Trevor Hancock, 2017

Originally published in Times Colonist Feb 27, 2017

Photograph by Claudio Vasquez

 

Local thinking and action on global issues

Store frontBy Dr. Trevor Hancock

“Think globally, act locally” was one of the enduring slogans of the 1970’s environmental movement. But I believe that we need to think locally as well as act locally, and thus I am leading the organisation of a series of local Conversations on Victoria as a One Planet region, a concept I first suggested in my August 10th column last year. The purpose is to explore the idea and begin the process of imagining a future for our community where we have a high quality of life and a low ecological footprint.

But this is no mere academic exercise, it has a very practical application. We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geologic epoch created by human activity. We have become a force to rival nature; in one telling line in a short video – Welcome to the Anthropocene – produced for a 2012 international conference in London, the narrator notes “we move more sediment and rock annually than all natural processes, such as erosion and rivers”.

On top of that, we are changing the climate, have made a hole in the ozone layer, manage three-quarters of the land outside the ice-sheets, and have started a sixth Great Extinction. Our rate of resource use and pollution is so high that if everyone on Earth lived the way we do, we would need three or four new planets to meet our demands.

We cannot blithely continue on like this. Nor can we say to the rest of the world – sorry, you must take less so that we can take more; it would be unjust and they will not accept that. So clearly we need to learn to live within the limits of the one small planet that is our home.

I recently came across Bioregional, a non-profit consultancy based in the UK. They have mainly been working with developers on ‘One Planet’ developments; Dockside Green, as orginally conceived, would have fitted right in. But more recently, some cities have been developing and adopting One Planet plans; of particular interest to us is Brighton and Hove, on the south coast of England, which has a population about the same as ours. And last Friday in Vancouver there was an event to begin to explore ‘How do we become a One Planet city?’ So our series of Conversations are right on target.

But getting from here to there will not be easy, because the changes we need are massive, transformative – and they have to happen quickly. However people are not going to willingly and easily make the changes that are needed if they see them as harmful. That is the dilemma – and the challenge – we face. Can we imagine and then describe a positive vision of what our region would look like if it had a high Happy Planet Index? And more to the point, what would our society be like, how would we reconceive our economy, what are the value shifts we would have to bring about?

Our Conversations, then, clearly need to be as much about philosophy, the humanities, the arts and the social sciences as technology and the natural sciences. We will need need visionaries, hope and imagination, innovation and new forms of entrepreneurship that make a profit while building natural, social and human capital.

These free Conversations start Monday, January 23rd from 5 – 7 PM at the Robert Bateman Centre, 470 Belleville Street and continue weekly for 5 weeks. The opening Conversation will lay out some basic ideas and discuss the estimation of Victoria’s ecological footprint, an essential step in measuring the HPI. Over the following weeks we will discuss the Indigenous perspective on these issues (Jan 30) and what a One Planet energy system (Feb 6), transportation system (Feb 13) and food system (Feb 22nd) would look like.

This will culminate in a UVic IdeaFest event on Saturday March 11th at New Horizons in James Bay. But already ideas are being hatched for more Conversations: What is the role of the arts in contributing to this transformation? What do the various faith communities have to say about a One Planet way of life? What sort of economy fits a one Planet region- and many more issues. The Conversation is just beginning.

© Trevor Hancock, 2017

Originally Published in Times Colonist.

Photo by Claudio Vasquez.

To Reform For Health

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

The high cost of health care, driven in part by a strategic failure to invest adequately in prevention and self-care support, is diverting our attention and resources from what should be our number one priority. On both humane and economic grounds we need to reduce the burden of disease and the need for health care.

But doing so is largely beyond the scope of the health care system and the Ministry of Health. Because the major determinants of our health lie in areas such as food, housing, education, income, safe and healthy neighbourhoods, good working conditions, a clean environment and a stable climate – none of which fall within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health. This requires reform for health, in which the whole government, led by the Premier, accepts and acts upon its responsibility to improve the population’s health.

As a society we need to invest in policies and practices that will improve the health of the population. And we have to stop creating ill health that just adds to the burden of disease and the costs of health care. Yet we know that “social injustice is killing people on a grand scale”, as the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health bluntly put it in its 2008 report; it is also making people sick on a grand scale.

People whose lives and choices are constrained by poverty, hunger, homelessness, poor education, unhealthy living and working conditions, multiple insecure jobs and other stressors will find it hard, if not impossible, to lead healthy lives and raise healthy children: It is a testament to their strength that so many manage to do so in the face of such adversity.

The costs of poverty and inequality are not only lost human potential but significant economic costs. In an April 2016 report, the Public Health Agency of Canada found that for just three health care services, representing only one quarter of total health care spending, “socio-economic health inequalities cost Canada’s health care system at least $6.2 billion annually”.

Noting that the lowest income group accounted for more than half of this excess cost, they concluded that “Improving the health of this group could significantly reduce these costs”. When you add in the other costs associated with poverty, it becomes clear that poverty is so expensive that we just cannot afford it. Which is why provinces such as Ontario are beginning to look at some form of guaranteed minimum income.

In addition, we are becoming increasingly aware that our current economic and industrial system is creating massive global ecological changes that threaten to undermine the very basis of our health: An adequate supply of water, food, fuel and materials, waste detoxification, a stable climate and a viable web of life, of which we are a part.

capital-bank

Photo

by

Claudio Vasquez.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The danger is that when ecosystems decline, the societies embedded within and dependent upon them also decline. In ecological and human health terms, business as usual is so expensive that we can’t afford it. We need to switch to a new development path, one that puts people and planet first, not profit – at least, not profit based in an economic system that ignores or externalises damage to people and the planet.

We need to invest in poverty reduction, affordable housing, food security, education, a fossil fuel-free economy, sustainable development and other key determinants of health. Because ultimately, the health of our population depends upon what we do beyond health care.

But this is not only about public policy, important though that is. It is also about what the private sector does and how it behaves. The reality is that many private sector activities threaten health; we have seen countless examples of industries and investors that are determined to go on making money and ignoring the harm they do.

We need to pay much more attention to what Dr. John Millar, a former Provincial Health Officer for BC, has called ‘the corporate determinants of health’. In fact, we need a new economic model –in which we aim to simultaneously increase natural, social, human and economic capital – and new ways of measuring progress.

Now that would be reform for health!

© Trevor Hancock, 2016

Originally published in Times Colonist on 26 Dec, 2016

 

Social change is at the heart of promoting health.

By Paola Ardiles

Who are we?  

Bridge for Health was created in 2013 as a volunteer based network to foster innovative strategies that enable people to have more control over conditions that impact their health. Since its inception three years ago the network has reached people across Canada and abroad, and has evolved into an incubator of social innovation in health, with empowerment and community engagement at its core.

Our Goal

The co-op works with community organizations and businesses to co-design healthy social and built environments that promote wellbeing.  The ultimate goal is to support transformation of our society towards a safe, sustainable and healthy future for all.

Why a co-op?

Co-ops promote inclusiveness, collective leadership and shared ownership, all concepts that are core to promoting health and wellbeing. The co-op will focus on social innovation research and consulting.

beach b4h

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to get involved?

Join the co-op member today!

Have a say in how we operate and grow.

Make an impact and join our research and consultant team or join one of our committees to help us sustain our efforts..

Connect today at info@bridgeforhealth.org