Policies are important determinants of health because they shape how resources are distributed in our society, and they shape which values guide that distribution. Policies shape the influence of different interests, which can be good or bad for our health.
From national and provincial laws and regulations to local bylaws and policies, and even to the policies that exist in workplaces, schools and health care, our health is impacted by the rules, laws and principles that guide our actions.
Lambton Public Health (LPH) helps to ensure healthy policies by:
- Advocating for policies known to improve health
- Assessing policies that may impact health
- Preventing or addressing policies known to harm our health
Federal & Provincial Policy
Even though they may seem distant, policies developed at the provincial and federal level can be the biggest determinants of our health.
Here are a few examples.
- Product marketing laws can reduce our risk by eliminating exposure to unhealthy messages about food, beverages and drugs
- Tobacco and alcohol marketing restrictions can prevent or delay the use of these substances. Policies that change where tobacco and other drugs can be used also contributes to reducing and preventing harms
- Promoting greater equality in health determinants such as income and education can help reduce differences in health outcomes between people with and without those resources
- Protecting our environment protects our health by ensuring regulation of contaminants, reporting of adverse incidents and reduction of risk to the public
- Required planning consultation with communities can protect our health by giving communities a voice in their own health.
Nearly all municipal policies impact health in some way. The biggest illustration is the planning and design work of municipalities, and how it either helps or harms our health. For instance, policies that protect arts and culture can ensure the social health and connection in a community.
LPH has a strong connection to all Lambton municipalities and to Lambton County. We work with the County and local municipalities to keep public health a priority in the work and policies of local government.
Here are examples of local policies that impact our health:
- Sarnia was one of the first communities in Canada to add fluoride to its water. That policy has protected the dental health of our community for many years
- The Town of Petrolia has a health and wellness committee with representatives from a number of community stakeholders (including LPH). The group has the potential to keep health at the forefront of Petrolia’s municipal work
- A Built Environment Round Table includes many municipal partners. Public health and municipal planners meet to discuss key priorities and ways to foster healthy built environments
Institutional & Organizational Policy
Institutional policies shape the health of people affected by work in those institutions. Policies that protect health and human rights are critical to the development of a healthy community.
Some policies include:
- Level of control and engagement employees have in decisions related to their work
- Flexibility of employers to meet the needs of individuals while ensuring productivity and value creation
It is integral organizations note the health and wellness impacts of their policies. For example:
- Supporting nursing parents to breastfeed infants at work can have positive health consequences for employees and children.
- Protecting resources to address poor mental health (funds to pay for counsellors, employee assistance plan) can prevent future absenteeism and illness
- Policies supporting workplace engagement and safety can produce health benefits for employees and their families
- Policies supporting diversity, inclusion and respect can make the workplace a safer and healthier environment for employees and clients
Advocating For Health Policies
Because public policy has such a tremendous impact on health, it is part of our role to be involved in:
- Advocating for policies that can enable better health
- Supporting implementation and evaluation of policies that may impact health
LPH works on policies in different ways. Sometimes, we:
- Partner with regional / provincial organizations to advocate for national policies
- Advocate for provincial policies we think will impact local health
- Work directly with County Council and local municipalities to promote policies that have positive health impacts for our community – from regulating health hazards (substance use and vector control) to promoting positive health behaviours (walking and cycling)
Trails and Paths
LPH has been a key player in the ongoing development of a more physically active community. For many years, we have worked with the County and our municipal partners to build an interconnected network of trails and paths to support walking and cycling to get people physically active and connect with others in the natural environment.
Before the Smoke-Free Ontario Act came into effect in 2006, Lambton Public Health worked closely with the municipalities to create a Lambton County smoke-free bylaw for enclosed workplaces and public places in 2004. Over time many municipalities supported further regulation of places where tobacco could be smoked; especially when children could be exposed to secondhand smoke and observe smoking behaviour.
Working with community stakeholders, LPH helped develop a vision and principles of a healthy food system. In 2013, Lambton County Council endorsed a Food Charter that outlines a vision and recommendations for action. The vision is tied to ideas like sustainable and local agriculture, food skills, food affordability and availability.
It is linked to how we:
- Grow or make, process and distribute and consume food
- Manage waste generated at each point in that process
These are examples of how Lambton Public Health has worked toward action in the community toward health for all of us.
For more information or questions about policy impacts on your health, contact Lambton Public Health.