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Health promotion

Why health promotion?

Let's Start a Conversation about Health ... and Not Talk about Health Care at All is a video that describes how social and economic conditions influence health. The video, developed by the Sudbury and District Health Unit, has been adapted by other regions and health organizations in Ontario.


The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion defines health promotion as the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It describes mental health promotion as creating living conditions and environments that support mental health and allow people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.

Principles of health promotion

Like health equity, health promotion aims to reduce differences in health status. Health promotion initiatives and programs should be adapted to the local needs and possibilities of individual communities to take into account different social, cultural and economic systems. According to the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, strategies for health promotion include:

  • building healthy public policy
  • creating supportive environments
  • developing personal skills
  • reorienting health services.
  • strengthening community actions.


Health promotion goes beyond health care. It involves the joint co-ordination of policy-makers in all sectors and at all levels, directing them to be aware of the health consequences of their decisions and to accept their responsibilities for health. Collaborative actions contribute to:

  • safer and healthier goods and services (e.g., health and safety workplace policies)
  • healthier public services (e.g., flu shots for the public)
  • cleaner, safer, more enjoyable environments (e.g., municipal alcohol policies).

For the first time ever, Canada has national low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines (LRDG) that are supported at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, and by diverse organizations representing primary care, health promotion, public health, law enforcement and the beverage alcohol industry.

The LRDG reflect the best available scientific research and evidence. They are intended to provide consistent information across the country to help people moderate their alcohol consumption and reduce immediate and long-term alcohol-related risks. The LRDG are a unique health promotion resource that has been incorporated into alcohol screening, brief intervention and referral tools that can be used at the primary care level.

Related approaches

  • harm reduction
  • health equity.

Evidence summary

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2011). Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. Ottawa, ON: Author.

Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. (1986, November). Presented at the 1st International Conference on Health Promotion, Ottawa, ON.


Online resources


  • Culture Counts: A Roadmap to Health Promotion outlines best practices for developing health promotion initiatives in mental health and substance use with ethnocultural communities. It is published by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
  • YouThrive helps community and school leaders to create communities where young people can thrive and contribute. It was developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario branch, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Ontario Lung Association and the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association.

Resources for your clients and their families

  • Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines reflect the most recent research evidence. They provide consistent information to help people moderate their alcohol consumption and reduce immediate and long-term alcohol-related harm.
  • The Empowerment Council is a voice for clients and former clients of mental health services. It is an independent organization funded by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The Empowerment Council is staffed entirely by people who have received mental health and addiction services.
  • The Family Council, funded by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is an advocate for families and represents them by participating in reviewing policies, program development and strategic planning about issues that affect families and clients at CAMH.
  • Strengthening Families for the Future is a family change program to reduce factors that put families at risk and enhance factors that support families. Built around a family meal, the program uses role play and other interactive activities to promote problem-solving and communication skills.
  • The Sunshine Garden and Market features a garden on the grounds of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), where people grow organic vegetables, herbs and native plants while developing valuable skills in a safe, supportive environment. The project was developed with FoodShare and is supported by Live Green Toronto and the Rotary Club of Parkdale–High Park.

Recommended reading

Mental health promotion

Mental health promotion and primary care

Mental health promotion and public health

A story

Partnering with ethnoracial communities to take culture seriously

by Carolyn Morris

The first thing clients of Punjabi Community Health Services in Brampton, Ontario, are asked to sign is a consent form that allows counsellors to talk with the client's family. Because extended families are central to Punjabi culture, it is often necessary to convince a client's father of the need for mental health treatment, or to counsel wives or siblings who might not know how to deal with a family member's addiction. The agency will still provide services if the client refuses to sign, but manager Amandeep Kaur says treatment in that case often isn't as effective as when the family is involved.

In a recent example, six sisters who were worried about their brother's drinking got counselling, as did their husbands, about how to stop enabling their brother's problem. Counsellors began the brother's treatment by focusing first on his family.

Achieving this type of culturally appropriate care in mental health and addiction services was the focus of a recently completed five-year provincial project, Taking Culture Seriously in Community Mental Health. Led by the Centre for Community Based Research (CCBR) in Waterloo, the participatory action research project – research "with" and not "on" people – brought together multi-disciplinary researchers, mental health practitioners and members of five different cultural communities in Toronto and Waterloo – Spanish-speaking Latin American, Mandarin-speaking Chinese, Polish, Punjabi Sikh and Somali.