The Canadian Public Health Association has just released a discussion paper on the Ecological Determinants of Health. Find it here.

Wellness WheelThis document relates to the current work of the Shared Measurement constellation of the Child & Youth Health Network. Partners in the Shared Measurement constellation are currently defining each of the 8 domains identified as core to our Common Agenda.

We have wondered about about whether we should include any ecological measures in the ‘environment’ domain.

Though ecological systems are not our target (social systems are) if we really want to ensure that children & youth thrive in the long term, we cannot pretend that ‘ecological determinants of health’ are not going to be increasingly relevant to young people’s well-being.

Not only their future well-being, as ecological impacts became more pervasive, but their current well-being: if young people see adults committing to improving the health of our ecological systems, they may experience less nihilism about the state of the world they are inheriting.

Including an ecological measure in the Child & Youth Health Network would also be a way to engage all of the people in our community, including those who are passionate about the environment.

But at the same time, if it is not a system we are targeting, is appropriate for us to try to measure it?

Though this document doesn’t provide example indicators, it advocates for their development (the following excerpt is from p. 26):

The Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes for Health Information, and Statistics Canada should develop and test a set of indicators of the ecological determinants of health to be used to monitor and report on these issues across all four orders of government (i.e., federal, provincial, municipal and First Nations) and to guide more comprehensive impact assessments of the ecological, social, health and economic impacts of major public policies and private sector developments.

Specifically, to:

  • Identify health indicators for conditions plausibly related to ecological change for use within impact assessments and as early-warning or sentinel conditions to be monitored;
  • Revise the core set of indicators of health used in Canada to include indicators to measure key ecological determinants of health, the socio-ecological system and sentinel health conditions associated with ecological change;
  • Ensure that public health reports at all levels include indicators of ecological determinants of health in routine reports, and report specifically on them on a regular basis, reflecting local, regional, provincial, national, indigenous and global contexts; and
  • Assure that as much effort and profile are applied to the collection and publication of data on the state of the environment as on the state of the economy.

One thought on “Ecological Determinants of Health

  1. I see there being considerable value in incorporating ecological determinants for two main reasons
    1. the physical environment we has a direct impact on our world view and underpin many of the socio-economic determinants that are already being addressed. Already there are clear examples of ecological factors that have potential health, social, cultural and economic implications, from the proximity of schools to high volume traffic corridors and children’s consequent exposure to toxic chemicals, and concerns about the nature deficit that many children in urban environments already contend with.
    2. Working with ecological aspects of our environment helps to ground people in their physcial communities and can result in a far more concrete appreciation of interconnected issues and can be supported by creative analysis of spatial data. This is not to suggest that any of these complex issues can be understood through a computer mapping exercise; when done crudely using a limited number of coarse parameters this kind of work can like do considerable harm in stigmatizing communities. When done effectively and sensitively however, spatial analysis is capable of describing challenges, opportunities and relationships in a manner that can help to make patterns apparent in a way that other approaches might not achieve.


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