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Putting the Population Health Approach into Action

What is Population Health?

A population health approach aims to elevate the health of the entire population and to reduce health inequities among population groups. It simply means that we look at the health of groups of people rather than at the health of one person at a time. For example, if we compare men to women as a group and look at the health status of each group, we can see women generally live longer than men. If we ask “Why is that?” we may find answers that could help us learn from women’s better health to improve men’s health. It is an important idea because it means we look at the settings that people live in, the social and physical landscape that surrounds them, so we can see what things might be in their lives that contribute to their good health, or make it more difficult to achieve.  It is very clear that, although British Columbians enjoy the best health in Canada, the health of people who live in Northern BC is not as good as people who live in other parts of the province.

Northern Health is leading a new edge of thinking and practice in adopting a population health approach as one of the four pillars in our 2009-2015 strategic plan. We lead initiatives that will improve the health of the people we serve. The province has selected some specific targets, that we are sharing, aimed at improving the health of British Columbians and reducing chronic diseases, injury, death and disability. These targets include efforts to:

  • Improve access to healthy food/exercise
  • Prevent/reduce obesity
  • Reduce tobacco use

  • Prevent injuries

  • Improve early childhood development opportunities

  • Reduce mental health problems (Addictions, FAS, Depression, Suicide)

  • Address Aboriginal health inequalities/inequities

  • Reduce poverty, unemployment, social exclusion

  • Improve environmental health (Air, Water, Soil, Warming)

Population Health is concerned with the determinants of health - factors in our daily lives that directly and indirectly impact our health. These determining factors include things such as how much money we make, how stressful our jobs are, the size and quality of our social support networks, or how physically able we are. They can improve our health, or they can set our health back. 

Our province has recognized the importance of determinants of health on our population's well-being, and Northern Health is committed to applying population health principles to improve health outcomes.

In order to help us understand the population health approach, the "Upstream Team" has produced two Primers. Volume one focuses on introducing the IMAGINE acronym, the second volume shares a series of success stories.

  • Investing upstream and for the long haul
  • Multiple, strength-based strategies
  • Addressing the determinants of health
  • Grassroots engagement
  • Intersectoral collaboration
  • Nurturing healthy public policy
  • Evidence-based decision making

Position Statements Addressing Risk Factors


What are Determinants of Health?

  • Income and social status
  • Social support networks
  • Education
  • Employment and work conditions
  • Social environments
  • Physical environments
  • Personal health practices and coping skills
  • Health child development
  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Health services
  • Biology/genetic endowment