Shifting to Wellness

Last week, an Alberta provincial minister did something a bit unusual and perhaps even somewhat courageous.

Dave Hancock, Minister of Health and Wellness, hosted a provincial forum for some two hundred senior policy and decision makers from across the government, voluntary and business sectors.

Similar to other provincial statistics and as he discussed in his opening address, 40% of the population is considered to be overweight or obese, cases of type 2 diabetes have doubled in the last 20 years, and health care costs have risen by an astonishing 12.2% over the past year to the point that it now makes up 36% of the government’s total expenditure.

Although Alberta, like other provinces, has implemented proactive programs to promote public awareness, reduce the use of tobacco, ensure healthier schools and workplaces, as well as established primary care networks to implement promotion and prevention strategies, it is clear that rising healthcare costs have the potential to bankrupt our country. 

Understanding the urgency of the escalating costs of poor health, Hancock made a decision to emphasize the word wellness in his title by hosting his forum entitled “Shifting into Wellness by Building Healthy Communities”.

The Minister’s Forum was designed to gather new ideas and fresh thinking on why a shift to emphasizing healthy communities is important for everyone. Additionally it was intended to explore what a healthy community looks like and what is needed to build them.

The forum nixed the use of typical presentations and powerpoint, and instead utilized presenters as storytellers to share their approaches in their respective communities. Small groups of participants listened intently, analyzing the stories to determine the elements that contributed to success.

For those already working at the grassroots of communities, the results weren’t all that surprising.

There isn’t a magic bullet or a cookie-cutter solution.

Instead, healthy communities happen when community leaders and its citizens make it a priority. 

It doesn’t happen “top down” it happens “bottom up”. It takes leaders who understand community development as well as the importance of engaging citizens to develop a vision and values for strong, healthy and vibrant communities. Community leadership skills will also be required to bring diverse disciplines together to work collaboratively on the community’s agreed upon outcomes.

It will also take funding and funders that are flexible enough to go where a community needs to go. And, while government policy is important, it needs to engage those who will be impacted by the policy and be viewed as a work-in-progress rather than something carved in stone.

Along the way, a priority will need to be placed on making success travel.

It is also clear that while we know people need to take more personal responsibility for their health by getting more physically active, eating healthy, and not smoking, it really isn’t quite that simple.  Just calling on people to take more personal responsibility isn’t the answer.

Lifestyles are influenced by life circumstances such as income, employment, education, housing, access to recreation, our genetics, culture, coping skills and the environments where we live work and play.

In fact most experts believe the number one contributing factor to poor health is poverty.

So yes, fixing a health care system that is broken in many ways is technically and socially complex.

It will be complicated and chaotic and it’s multiple root causes will require cross domain boundary work, astute political leadership and decision-making, compromise, negotiation, knowledge-building, and experimentation.

The reality is that we will need to be brave and stop trying to change reality by pretending it isn’t complicated because it is. However if we don’t change it, it will ultimately be very simple.  Instead of paying now, we will pay much much more later.

Posted on 02-03-08


lifestyle is influenced by several factors which is true, but it is also true that lifestyle is responsible for many health related issues. one of which is diabetes. statistics mentioned above are related to each other: overweight people are at more risk of developing type 2 diabetes. we need to manage our own health by adjusting our lifestyle, we can’t just depend on the medicare or the govt. to provide us health care once we get IT

•Posted by Diabetes Blog  on  03/30/08  at  04:43 AM

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