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Health Equity & Environmental Public Health

Health Equity and Social Determinants of Health Resources for Environmental Public Health (EPH) Practitioners


Health equity

Health equity means that everyone has a fair opportunity to meet their health potential. Health inequities, then, are differences in health status that are modifiable and unjust. Health inequities result from social, economic, or environmental disadvantage, and therefore are closely related to the social determinants of health. These social determinants affect individuals' behaviours in ways that affect their health. Moreover, exposure to healthy and unhealthy environments is also influenced by social, economic, geographic, and other factors. (Refer to the NCCDH Glossary of Essential Health Equity Terms for more information.)

BC's Guiding Framework for Public Health includes equity as a cross-cutting issue that relates to every facet of public health. This framework calls on the public health system to identify community health needs, address barriers, and consider access to services in the development and implementation of policies and programs. Equity is increasingly present in policy documents such as this, but the extent of translation into practice at the regional health authority or personal practice levels is not known.

The environmental public health system can promote equity in three ways:

(1) Identify environmental health inequities, highlighting populations with higher exposures to harmful substances or that lack exposure to health-supporting environments;

(2) Work toward solutions that promote equity, such as healthier built environments or the use of health impact assessments; and

(3) Advocate for services that help vulnerable communities address their inequities by addressing their determinants of health.

Project details

This project is called Through an Equity Lens: A New Look at Environmental Health. It is funded by a 2014-17 PHSA Population and Public Health Primordial/Primary Prevention Project grant. Through an Equity Lens is administered through Environmental Health Services at the BCCDC and managed by Dr. Karen Rideout, Environmental Health Policy Analyst at the BCCDC.

Project Goals

Through an Equity Lens: A New Look at Environmental Health aims to:

  1. Increase knowledge of health inequities related to the natural and built environment and improve understanding of how these inequities impact environmental health practice.
  2. Assess the capacity of BC's environmental public health workforce to support health equity and define what that support might look like.
  3. Develop resources to help incorporate equity into environmental health practice.
  4. Better equip vulnerable populations to take action to address their own health inequities.
  5. Identify options to integrate environmental health equity considerations into health system policies in BC.
equity-logo_col_500px.pngThese pages share information about the processes used and knowledge gained from the Through an Equity Lens project.

For more information about the project, please email


BCCDC has been working with agencies and organizations across British Columbia and Canada to build and share knowledge about integrating equity into environmental public health practice.

The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH) is one of six National Collaborating Centres created to foster linkages within the public health community. All centres are funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) through the National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCPH) program. The NCCEH aims to synthesize, translate, and exchange knowledge for environmental health practitioners and policy-makers; identify gaps in research and practice knowledge; and build capacity through networks of practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.

The NCCEH, which is affiliated with Environmental Health Services at BCCDC, facilitates engagement with environmental health practitioners from across Canada, allowing British Columbia and other provinces and territories to learn from each other and share challenges, best practices, and innovative approaches to supporting health equity. 


The National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) is another of the six centres that make up the NCCPH program. Based at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, NCCDH aims to provide the Canadian public health community with knowledge and resources to take action on the social determinants of health, to close the gap between those who are most and least healthy. They work with the public health field to move knowledge into action—in practice, in policy and in decision making—to achieve societal improvements that result in health for all.

NCCDH has been working closely with NCCEH and BCCDC to examine how environmental public health practitioners and policy makers can take action on the social determinants of health by incorporating a health equity lens. 


Health equity is a priority area for the Population and Public Health Program (PPH), which funds this work through a 3-year Primordial/Primary Prevention Project grant.

Food security is a PPH key focus area and an example of where social determinants of health intersect with environmental public health practice. PPH and BBCDC have been working together to support collaboration between the food safety and food security sectors in BC.


Each of the regional health authorities (Fraser Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, Island Health, Interior Health, Northern Health, and First Nations Health Authority) participated in the needs assessment and scoping phases of this project. Focus groups with environmental health officers in each health authority were instrumental to identifying how and where health equity relates to environmental public health practice.

The health authorities are involved to varying degrees throughout the 3-year project for consultation, input on future directions, and to assist with piloting the development of new resources.


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SOURCE: Health Equity & Environmental Public Health ( )
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