Social Networks in Montreal: Connect to Improve Public Health

Montreal-2011-RK-cropped-BlogI changed into comfy shoes as soon as I checked in – then headed out to experience the evening atmosphere of this great city known for its European character. The grand boulevards jostled with people walking as cyclists in all shapes and sizes whistled by – following the tide I was swept into the site of a Franco-phone music festival. Hooray! After a little music I set off to find a bite and found a cozy little bistro. Hooray again! When I finally returned to the hotel – I reflected on how the built form of the city with vibrant streets and plazas encourage walking, and how biking is a natural part of the culture. People cycle around in everyday clothes and the bike share program seems to get both locals and visitors in on the action. This seemed to me a great live case-study for the days ahead.

Montreal-2011-cropped-BlogLast week Mary Collins, BCAHL Secretariat Director, and I were delighted to fly to beautiful Montreal for ‘Public Health in Canada: Innovative Partnerships for Action’, the Canadian Public Health Association’s 2011 conference. It was a great venue for sharing BCAHL’s experience through two posters: Shifting Policy to Support Healthier Weights in BC and Community Knowledge Translation.

We connected with many colleagues from around the country who are leading interesting health promotion programs and initiatives. There were many opportunities to learn about a broad range of approaches with sessions on addressing health inequities, food security, healthy built environments, alcohol policy and moderate drinking guidelines as well as The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion and the UN summit on the prevention of non-communicable diseases and much, much more.

It was interesting to hear about how Quebec incorporated a ‘whole-of-government approach’ also described as ‘health-in-all-policies’ through their Public Health Act.  Section 54 of Québec’s Public Health Act describes this specifically in that “The [health] Minister shall give other ministers any advice he or she considers advisable for health promotion and the adoption of policies capable of fostering the enhancement of the health and welfare of the population”.

The Public Health Agency of Canada together with the Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report on ‘Obesity in Canada’.  Many of the recommendations that came out of their research mirror those advanced by BCAHL.

One of the plenaries explored the potential of social media to deal with public health issues. Speaker David Hammond spoke about the history of tobacco control and how incremental steps in public awareness, science, regulation and taxation built up over time to take us from the ‘60s when more than half of adults smoked to the present where on average less than 20% smoke regularly.

Many anticipate that social media will expedite the knowledge and action necessary to tackle other challenging public health issues (such as health inequities and physical inactivity) – with your help, BCAHL is giving it a go!

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications
June 2011

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