Why take action on healthy communities?

Credit: Alex Cheek

The health of British Columbians is changing, and not for the better. One in three British Columbians is living with at least one chronic condition1, and one in four British Columbian adults is obese2. What is truly alarming is that these numbers are on the rise as our lifestyles become more sedentary and we make fewer healthy food choices. To compound the problem the cost of health care in our province is escalating. In the last decade, health care costs have doubled to consume over 40% of the provincial budget.3

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we can build the conditions that support the health and well-being of all British Columbians. These conditions for health begin right in our communities—where people live, work, learn, and play.

What the data is saying:

  • Chronic disease is pervasive – One in three British Columbians is living with one or more chronic conditions which consume approximately 80% of BC Health Care budgets.4
  • People are not active enough – 50% of adults and 91% of children and youth do not get recommended levels of physical activity5
  • Obesity is on the rise – 26% of children in Canada are overweight or obese6 Canada’s childhood obesity rates are among the highest in the developed world – rates have almost tripled since 19787
  • Our population is aging – By 2031, seniors in BC will account for 25 percent of the total population8
  • Our communities are designed to have us use our cars instead of our feet – Research shows that suburban developments tend to be built with low-density, single-land use neighbourhoods and street networks that are poorly suited to walking.9
  • Many of us struggle to buy healthy local food – Research shows some populations in BC, particularly low income, single parent, aboriginal and rural, have difficulty accessing healthy fresh locally produced food.i
  • Health inequities exist in BC – BC has a large number of populations who experience poorer health than the general population— for example, people living in poverty, those with mental illness, Aboriginal people and new immigrants.10

“The kind of communities that we develop is a more important determinant of health status of the population than the kind of health care we construct.”

Vancouver Island Health Authority, Understanding the Social Determinants of Health, 2006

What influences our health?

Evidence shows that 75% of factors that influence our health occur outside the healthcare system11.

Many factors combine together to influence the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Factors such as the context in which we live, our access to healthy food and transportation options, one’s income and education level, as well as our social networks and access to social services all play a role in determining our health. This has led to a great amount of attention being paid to the health of communities, rather than only to the health of individuals (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1. The Health Map: determinants of health and well-being12

Many effective actions to influence the key determinants of our health take place at the local level and are led by multiple sectors and citizens working together.

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