Supportive environments

Creating environments where health choices become easier to make.

Some neighbourhoods have good access to fresh and affordable food. Others have only fast food outlets, liquor outlets and convenience stores. Providing people with healthy choices means providing a supportive environment. ‘The choices we make are shaped by the choices we have’. (Adelman Larry 2008)

Creating supportive environments is an action area identified in the Ottawa Charter. The Charter states that:

Our societies are complex and interrelated. Health cannot be separated from other goals. The inextricable links between people and their environment constitutes the basis for a socioecological approach to health. (World Health Organisation 1986)

  • Supportive environments offer people protection from the factors that can threaten good health.
  • Supportive environments foster participation in health and enable people to expand their capabilities and health self-reliance.
  • Supportive environments are critical for a person-centred approach to health.

To make healthier choices easier choices for people, we need to create places that support and empower. This includes where they live, where they work and where they play.

Supportive environments are sometimes referred to as supportive settings. Examples of supportive settings include schools, hospitals, workplaces and cities.

Action to create supportive environments for promoting health has many dimensions. Some actions that have contributed or could contribute to the creation of supportive environments include:

  • Tobacco control legislation for workplaces which makes it harder to smoke during working hours
  • Sponsorship of alcohol-free events
  • Banning junk food advertising to children
  • Enabling communities and individuals to take control of their health and environment. For example supporting women in a disadvantaged community to research local health needs
  • Strengthening the links between health and environmental strategies by introducing walking or cycling programs.
  • Improving equitable access to health such as promoting sexual health and wellbeing for people with disabilities.
  • Introducing standardised community health interventions for tobacco, alcohol and other drug screening
  • Make waiting rooms welcoming, with friendly staff, seating, play area for children, access to water and promotion of the role of the arts in health.
  • Promote health in the workplace eg implementing stress management programs for staff.
  • Apply primary health care principles such as community participation, responsiveness to local needs, collaboration with others, encouraging and supporting self-health, emphasis on equity, and appropriate use of technology. (Johnson, A 2002)

Check List

Click here for a check list that will help identify how to create supportive environments in your practice and how supportive environments can contribute to improving health outcomes.