ARCHIVED: Frequently Asked Questions: Canada's Response to WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health


Why is there a need for Canada to focus on the social determinants of health?

Not all Canadians enjoy good health and major persistent health disparities exist between various groups in Canadian society. These health disparities are mostly attributed to socioeconomic status, Aboriginal heritage, gender, geographic location and other factors influencing health. In addition, health inequities between and within countries have also emerged as an area of concern for the global community. To improve the health of the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations, we need to address the root causes of health problems. According to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, these root causes are the social conditions in which people live and work, referred to as the social determinants of health. Evidence shows that most of the global burden of disease and the bulk of health inequalities are caused by social determinants.

What is the Public Health Agency of Canada doing to address social determinants of health?

The Public Health Agency of Canada understands the fundamental importance of addressing the “causes of the causes” of health problems and inequalities. Some key examples of Agency initiatives that address the social determinants of health include the National Health Goals; the establishment of a National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health ; the Healthy Living Strategy goal to address health disparities; release of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial papers: Reducing Health Disparities - Roles of the Health Sector, and taking action to address social determinants related to seniors and children's health, HIV/AIDS, mental health and many other areas.

What is Canada doing for the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health?

Canada is supporting the Commission and its work in various ways. See Canada's Contribution.

What would be the key policy outcomes of the work of the Canadian Reference Group?

The work of the Canadian Reference Group could be instrumental in creating supportive environments across sectors for the development of health enhancing and disparity reducing policies. This could include:

  1. advocating implementation of mechanisms for cross sectoral policy development;
  2. mechanisms to assess impacts of policy on health and health disparities; and
  3. tools to measure progress in reducing health and social inequalities.

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