The historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion

The historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion2017-04-03T21:44:16+10:00

The historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion cannot be underestimated. This year (2016) we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Ottawa Charter and its significance. After 30 years the Ottawa Charter is still the ‘gold standard’ as a health promotion framework.

The historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion begins with the original conference. This conference was held by the World Health Organisation in Ottawa, Canada on 21st November 1986. It was the First International Conference on Health Promotion. The conference was held in response to the expectation around the world for a new public health movement. The conference built upon the “Declaration on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata, the World Health Organization’s Targets for Health for All document, and the recent debate at the World Health Assembly on intersectoral action for health.”

[1]

The Ottawa Charter provided a positive definition for health (something to pursue, rather than something to be avoided) and encouraged the collaborative approach to health promotion that aims to promote health through changing the social determinants of health.

The Ottawa Charter outlined three (3) strategies for health promotion: advocacy, mediating, and enabling. Such strategies are then applied in the five (5) action areas: building healthy public policy, creating supportive environments, strengthening community action, developing personal skills, and reorienting health services; that stem well beyond the health sector.

The historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion is described by Louise Potvin and Catherine M. Jones in Twenty-five Years After the Ottawa Charter: The Critical Role of Health Promotion for Public Health:

The Charter established a radical agenda for public health, specifically to expressly convey the values public health pursues, thereby increasing the potential for the reflexivity of the field and opportunities to consider complementary values in actions that promote population health.[2]

One of the key landmarks for the Ottawa Charter is that it made preventative health promotion a priority. Not only did it provide a positive definition for health as a thing to pursue rather than the absence of disease, it also sought to promote health by empowering the individual, communities, governments and organisations to prevent poor health. This means promoting health by making it easier for people to stop risk behaviours and participate in more protective behaviours. It also sought to shape the context around people to make health more likely to be achieved, and sought after.

Louise Potvin and Catherine M. Jones identify four (4) innovations of the Ottawa Charter:

  1. The positive definition for health orienting health promotion and action towards people’s living conditions and health equity.
  2. It situates health as a product of life requiring prerequisites
  3. Proposes core values and principles that are conducive to health (participation, empowerment, equity, holism, intersectional approach, sustainability, multiple strategies)
  4. The three (3) strategies and five (5) action areas that extend beyond the health sector.[2]

Therefore, the historical significance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion is about the reorientation of health promotion away from avoiding disease and towards prevention through a multi-sectoral approach using the 3 strategies and 5 action areas.

Resources

[1] http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/previous/ottawa/en/

[2] Twenty-five Years After the Ottawa Charter: The Critical Role of Health …