I recently joined the Mayor’s committee in Port Colborne to identify policies and offer advice for improving the health of local citizens.  I offer my congratulations to Port Colborne and its councillors for undertaking this very important work. Immediately from the outset of this committee, with the leadership of staff from Bridges Community Health Centre and Port Cares, it became evident that we needed to take a very holistic and deep approach to issues affecting citizens in Port Colborne. The Social Determinants of Health were brought forward as a lens for this committee, now named the Social Determinants of Health Committee. The essence of this approach is the recognition that health is affected by many factors, not just medical, including: work, education, quality of our families, our physical environment, the food we eat, and many other factors. You can read more about social indicators in the linked report.

Ultimately, it’s about finding equity or fairness in our society. Inequity exists when individuals living in one section of Port Colborne can have shorter lives than others living maybe just a few blocks away. In Canada, the mortality rate for people in the most deprived neighbourhoods is 28% higher than those living in the most affluent neighbourhoods. Nobody should be denied a healthy life because they live in a low income neighbourhood. The following three minute video explains health equity, acquired from the LHIN website.

It feels like a daunting task but some places in the United States have increased the life span of their poorest residents. Looking at a problem from a local level can be effective. By example, although the poor in New York live shorter lives than rich New Yorkers, they do live longer than the poor in other US cities. Some of the credit goes to municipal planning and policies on everything from walkable sidewalks to anti trans-fat and anti-tobacco agendas. Municipal intervention can make a difference.

Where do you start? For this committee, it’s about equity, the social indicators of health, and asking the why’s. For a short explaination on how this process could work, watch this short video.