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Health Promotion Agency logo As from 1 April 2009 all Health Promotion Agency responsibilities have been transferred to the Public Health Agency.

What is health promotion?

Health promotion is the process of enabling people to exert control over the determinants of health and thereby improve their health. As a concept and set of practical strategies it remains an essential guide in addressing the major health challenges faced by developing and developed nations, including communicable and non-communicable diseases, and issues related to human development and health.

Health promotion is a process directed towards enabling people to take action. Thus, health promotion is not something that is done on or to people; it is done by, with and for people either as individuals or as groups. The purpose of this activity is to strengthen the skills and capabilities of individuals to take action and the capacity of groups or communities to act collectively to exert control over the determinants of health and achieve positive change.

Role and relevance of health promotion
In tackling the determinants of health, health promotion will include combinations of the strategies first described in the Ottawa charter, namely developing personal skills, strengthening community action, and creating supportive environments for health, backed by healthy public policy. Special attention is also given to the need to reorient health services towards health promotion.

Thus, health promotion will include actions directed at both the determinants of health that are outside the immediate control of individuals, including social, economic and environmental conditions, and the determinants within the more immediate control of individuals, including individual health behaviours.

Health promotion is a powerfully relevant strategy for social development -
in particular as an important set of strategies to address the factors influencing inequalities in health. Health promotion also encompasses the principles that underlie a series of strategies that seek to foster conditions that allow populations to be healthy and to make healthy choices. The range of strategies draws upon multiple fields of thought including anthropology, epidemiology, sociology, psychology and other behavioural sciences, public health, political science, education and communication, to name a few, and their respective methodologies.

Health promotion and determinants of health
Health is a resource for life that enables people to lead individually, socially and economically productive lives. It is a positive concept emphasising social and personal resources (physical, mental and spiritual).

It has long been acknowledged that there are certain prerequisites for health that include peace, adequate economic resources (and their distribution), food and shelter, clean water, a stable ecosystem, sustainable resource use, and access to basic human rights. The challenge to meet these fundamental needs must remain a core goal for all action directed towards health, social and economic development.

Recognition of these prerequisites highlights the inextricable links between social and economic conditions, structural changes, the physical environment, individual lifestyles and health. These links provide the key to an holistic understanding of health, and are meaningful to people's lives as they experience them.

There are obvious inherent challenges in achieving the goal of reduced inequities. Virtually all societies struggle with this problem. Achieving complete equality in health status among all who live in Northern Ireland could be viewed as an unrealistic goal. But achieving 'equitable' or fair access to the opportunities and supportive environments all people need to be healthy is both a laudable and achievable goal in a caring, civilized society. The United Nations report on human development suggests that efforts to reduce relative poverty, and to increase opportunities in education, employment, wages and participation in political and economic spheres are the key strategies for reducing inequities and, therefore, improving the health and wellbeing of those who live here.

Challenges for health promotion
The fact that health promotion refers to a collection of strategies that can be applied to many health and development issues also means that these strategies must operate within the context of something else. 'Empowerment', 'advocacy', 'communications', 'education', 'social mobilisation', 'community participation', and so on, all buzz-words of health promotion adherents, have little meaning in a vacuum. Nor are these components of health promotion ends in themselves, but means to achieve healthier and fuller lives.

 


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