Community health refers to the health and well-being of a geographic community and is impacted by the environment in which community members live, work, learn and play.
Health starts in our homes, schools, and jobs, long before we get sick. Community health is affected by the income level of the neighbourhood, the built and natural environment, healthy childhood development, access to health services, supportive social networks, and educational opportunities. These factors, among others, are referred to as the determinants of health, because they impact the health of individuals and the community.
The phrase "built environment" refers to the human-made or modified physical surroundings in which people live, work, and play. These include our homes, schools, workplaces, public spaces like parks and recreational areas as well as broader service networks such as our transportation and food systems. The concept of “built environments” can refer to areas of varying scope such as a large-scale urban plan or a site specific development.
We can think of healthy built environments as a holistic concept including the five core planning realms below. This conceptual framework is described further in the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit:
- Neighbourhood Design
- Transportation Systems
- Natural Environments
- Food Systems
How neighbourhoods are planned and built has a direct impact on the physical, mental, and social health of its residents. These population health impacts can be described through indicators such as level of social cohesion, mental and physical fitness, chronic disease, healthy weights, and injury rates, For example, making active transportation convenient and safe has been shown to increase physical activity, which is in turn linked to decreased unintentional injuries, improved mental health, social connectivity and healthy weights.
A healthy community is a shared responsibility and is achieved through the collaborative efforts of many people, organizations, and sectors. Together we can build healthy and vibrant communities that empower citizens to achieve their best physical and mental health.
The provincial government and health authorities are primarily responsible for health by providing health services and promoting healthy living. Local and First Nations governments and community organizations can also play a role in creating the conditions for citizens to make healthier choices, and working with partners to promote community well-being.
Community planners and design professionals, public health practitioners and local governments all have a role in promoting well-being and preventing illness and injury through the built environment. This helps to ensure that population health impacts are considered in decisions which impact the planning and design of local neighbourhoods. The Population & Public health team collaborates with diverse stakeholders in order to support the inclusion of health considerations within community planning and design processes.
Communities across BC are diverse. Local data can support community health by highlighting community strengths and areas for improvement. Access to local health data allows communities to make informed decisions about the policies and programs that are responsive to communities' unique needs and will most benefit their residents.