Enviro-Health All Together!
Our health is linked to the quality of our environment. For example, health is affected by how clean our air, water, and surroundings are; by how the neighbourhood is built to enable physical activity; and, by the quality of our social networks and the information available to us.
The quality of our environment can be influenced by personal choices, but more importantly, perhaps, it is affected by societal factors such as government policies and regulations.
How much we know about the quality of our environment and about what determines its quality varies with a range of factors from such things as an individual’s education, income, employment and language ability, to what public health messages are conveyed in the media and what government policies actually allow individuals to take action.
Often, public policies do not protect the most vulnerable individuals and groups. Moreover, public health messages that aim to help people make positive changes may not be sensitive to people’s needs and therefore not reach those who lack the resources (education, income, language ability, etc.) to better control their health or the environmental factors that affect it.
The 2008-2010 Éco-santé tous ensemble! (Enviro-Health All Together!) Project provided a way for immigrant and marginalized communities to learn about – and take action on – environmental health issues in the home and community. The project was under the joint direction of an Advisory Committee comprising the South Asian Women’s Community Centre and McGill University, and relied on guidance from a Community Consultation Group (CCG) of which interested community groups and individuals were members.
The CCG helped guide the development of the project tools at each major step, starting with our initial meetings at which we collaboratively generated ideas about environmental health risks of concern for communities they represented. We then collaboratively identified priority topics and how these were affected in each environment including the home, community, and workplace. The CCG also helped ensure that the education tools developed to address these issues were interesting, accessible, appropriately reflective of diverse communities, and in plain language.
Overall, the CCG emphasized the need – and ways – to address health issues in a holistic way, thereby ensuring that health issues were always seen in the appropriate context of people’s lives. Because potential barriers to participating in healthy activities or actions were raised during our discussions (e.g., unwelcoming environments and issues of isolation or alienation), we ensured that the tools we jointly created addressed these barriers realistically and noted workable ways to deal with them. For example, although a balanced diet is a key ingredient to good heart health, access to affordable foods can be challenging for some. Discussing the ways in which communities cooperate to create healthful and accessible foods may provide opportunities for empowerment of individuals and communities.
All the tools developed in our project are based on the Precautionary Principle, a principle that can be explained by the adage “better safe than sorry,” to ensure that our collective work leads toward healthier environments and lives now – and for generations to come. Because language barriers are always a challenge to accessing health information for those who do not speak French or English as a first language, we made it a priority to translate two sets of the tools into those languages likely to be familiar to the women at SAWCC we sought to reach – resulting in our use of 10 languages for the video and the illustrated booklet.
More to come…
We are now developing and initiating interactive workshops that feature the videos, illustrated booklet, and pamphlets and will be meeting with a wide range of community groups to make this material available to as diverse an audience as possible. This is in line with our objective to build on and enlarge connections between the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC) and other community groups that focus on immigrant and marginalized women. In particular, we wanted to include those for whom environmental health issues were not – at the time – primary objectives to clarify how environments did affect health in many ways and how these were tied to societal and structural arrangements even more than to individual behaviours.
From this, and from previous experiences, we are convinced that work to promote and sustain health can be done best when there are equitable and strong partnerships between university and community advocates. With "knowledge transfer" the current "buzz word" in many domains, these partnerships illustrate how learning – and knowledge – is both academic and experiential and always flows in both directions.
|Authors :||Abby Lippman
Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and
Madeleine Elise Bird
Département de médecine sociale et
Université de Montréal