Supportive environments

Making healthy choices isn't just about having personal self-discipline. In some neighbourhoods it is easy to get fresh and affordable produce, while in other neighbourhoods people are limited to fast food outlets, liquor outlets and convenience stores with less healthy choices. The most supportive environments make healthy choices the easiest choices.

Creating supportive environments is one of the five action areas identified by the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. Supportive environments offer people protection from factors that can threaten good health. They foster participation in health and let people expand their capabilities and self-reliance. This is critical for a person-centred approach to health.

Supportive environments are sometimes referred to as supportive settings. Settings refer to environments where people live, learn, work and play, such as schools, hospitals, workplaces and cities.Creating supportive and health promoting environments can have many dimensions and may include:

  • direct political action to create policies and regulations, such as tobacco control legislation
  • providing financial incentives or disincentives, for example, sponsoring alcohol-free events
  • advocacy designed to gain political commitment, social acceptance or policy change, for example, supporting community groups to advocate banning junk food advertising to children
  • providing education and empowerment, and enabling communities and individuals to take control of their health and environment, for example, teaching people in a disadvantaged community the skills to research local health needs
  • strengthening links between health and environmental strategies, including creating partnerships, for example, working with sustainable living practices and implementing walking or cycling programs
  • ensuring equitable access to supportive environments for health by mediating between conflicting interests in society, for example, promoting sexual health and wellbeing for people with disabilities being inclusive in plans involving community
  • being inclusive in plans involving community members and staff, for example, consulting community members to identify the best approaches to health and wellbeing
  • creating supportive settings for people using health services, for example, making waiting rooms feel welcoming for people with friendly staff, seating, play areas for children, access to water and promotion of the role of the arts in health
  • promoting health in the workplace, for example, implementing stress management programs for staff, helping staff quit smoking or providing healthy snack options in vending machines.

What are health-promoting hospitals?

Health-promoting hospitals focus on improving the health of the community as well as treating illness and injury. To do this they:

  • increase patient skills and knowledge to act on their own health
  • communicate in ways patients and community can easily understand and act on
  • provide environments that support behaviours that promote good health
  • connect with the community
  • ensure policies and procedures incorporate health promotion
  • lift the focus of healthcare to include health and wellbeing.

For further information and to apply these principles in your work, view this checklist

Visit the evidence library to find more information about this principle.

To see examples of the Working in Health Promoting Ways Principles of Practice, view the case studiesMother, Child and Father