Introducing Policy: Our friend and backbone of our community

Let me introduce you to our mutual friend, Policy. Now, before you roll your eyes, yawn or close your browser, I want you to play along and think about what you did this morning.

What time did you wake up? Did you have breakfast? (And we hope you and your family did!) How did you get to work, school or wherever you were going?
From waking up at 7am to get to work on time, to being able to cycle to school, the answers to the questions above and many of our everyday actions and behaviours are influenced and guided by policies. Our world is full of them and they have a remarkable impact on our lives and our health.

So, what exactly is a policy?

Well, policies can be formal and seen in the forms of rules, regulations, bylaws or legislation. We know not to damage the property of others, to pay taxes and to stop at red lights because of regulations and legislation that exist. Policies can also be informal such as guidelines, expectations, directions and standards. Perhaps you have a household guideline of not eating in the living room or an expectation for your kids to play outside an hour each day. The point is that whether seen as formal or informal, policies will guide our actions and behaviours.

What role do policies play on our health?

At Public Health, we take the approach that our health begins where we live, learn, work and play. As a result, supporting the development of healthy policy with local governments, community organizations and workplaces has become a significant part of what we do at the health unit.

Our health is influenced by many factors including the community where we live, our jobs and work environments, and our income, among others. For each of these factors, there are many opportunities for policy to play a role in promoting and protecting health. This can mean policies that ensure affordable nutritious food is available in all our communities even if you do not have a car, that there is a living minimum wage so that basic needs are being met and that sports and recreation opportunities are accessible in all communities.

A great example of a supportive environment created by policy is a community garden (especially now that spring has arrived!). They promote social interaction, community building, physical activity, food literacy and provide the community with an opportunity to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. We have many active community gardens on public land across Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph as a result of supportive land-use policies by local municipalities and the school board. As a result, there are some tremendous gardens, including those coordinated by the City of Guelph, the Town of Minto and the Upper Grand District School Board. Please visit the links for more information for how you can participate.

We will be blogging about many other health supporting policy activities in the upcoming months. I encourage you to reflect on your community, workplace or household and take note of what policy (rules/bylaws/guidelines) changes can be made to promote health. Remember that policy is our friend and think about what you and your family do on a daily or weekly basis and how your health is or can be supported by the policies around you. The Photovoice project may be an excellent way of doing so.

What do you want to see changed in your community?