My Vote is For Healthier Small (and Big) Communities

If I was to ask you to think about the health of rural communities, what would come to mind? Would it include: hale, hearty and healthy – farmers, fishers, foresters and otherwise pioneer-types chopping wood and working the land or sea? Well, that would fit the stereotype. But the reality today isn’t the quaint portrait of Canadiana.

The reality, according to the Canadian Population Health Initiative is that residents of more rural areas have higher mortality risks from circulatory diseases, injuries and suicide. They also have a lower life expectancy, are more likely to be at an unhealthy weight and have poorer health practices when it comes to smoking, nutrition and physical activity. And this may relate to social factors…rural areas have a higher percentage of people living on lower incomes and with less than a secondary education level.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – rural residents have a stronger sense of community belonging and overall lower rates of most cause-specific cancers.

On November 3rd, BCAHL brought together people in small towns and rural and remote communities across the province to learn and share ideas about what can be done to build healthier small communities.

Participants came up with a range of solutions and identified 3 ‘high priorities’ for their local governments:

  • Ensuring that there are doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in small communities;
  • Improved sidewalks/trails for pedestrians; and
  • Affordable housing.

We had some great panelists who discussed the type of actions that can and are being taken in small communities.

John Ingram’s presentation made connections between population health impacts and individual behaviour and showed how these come from urban and rural form which is shaped by land use policies and practices. He provided examples of how citizens can influence land use policies, such as:

  • Increasing density and mix land use uses…support a mixed use project
  • Expanding connections – bikes people, transit …start a walking school bus
  • Improving streets and infrastructure –complete streets….put in a bike rack
  • Improving Public Transit – connections to, through and between…put in a bus bench
  • Recreational Facilities – link, expand, diversify…build a new trail /greenway

Rose Soneff’s presentation explained how the communities in Williams Lake and the North Thompson were able to create support for food security plans and projects. She gave examples of how local governments can and do support local food security by:

  • Connecting to other tables (i.e.Tourism, Sustainability) and outside networks (UBCM).
  • Offering small grants and in-kind resources (conference line, meeting rooms, support from Public Works, skill development).
  • Providing in-house expertise to support, i.e. mapping services, proposal writing, or data management, succession planning.
  • Partnering or giving support to increase credibility of the Food Security group locally, regionally or provincially at conferences.
  • Partnering in funding applications.
  • Funding a local Food Security Coordinator and Food Security infrastructure.

Dr. Nicole Vaugeois’s presentation demonstrated how investments in natural and cultural amenities provide experiences that translate into tourism economic opportunities as well as local healthy living infrastructure. She provided a case study in the Cowichan Valley where a regional approach to link up recreation areas through an Integrated Master Plan acts a draw for people to live and invest in the community. They acquired lands and are working to connect them and the funding at the community level has allowed them to leverage outside dollars.

Shawn O’Neill and Edna McLellan’s presentation used the partnership that has developed between the Northern Health Authority and District of Kitimat to illustrate one of the ways that smaller communities can maximize resources by working together on shared health goals. They discussed how extended community partnerships have allowed them to reach out and encourage underserved groups to get more active.

Whether you live in a small community, suburb or urban centre – the local government elections are coming soon (Saturday, November 19th) and we recommend that you find out whether the candidates in your area support healthy living. BCAHL has also developed a voter’s guide to give citizens a basic overview of the local government responsibilities that have a direct impact on health. Check out the Think Healthy, Vote Locally!and visit us on our Facebook page.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications
November 2011

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