Understanding Health Promotion

Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health.

It covers a wide range of social and environmental interventions that are designed to benefit and protect individual people’s health and quality of life by addressing and preventing the root causes of ill health, not just focusing on treatment and cure.

Therefore, health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond healthy life-styles to well-being.

The 3 Key elements of Health Promotion

1. Good governance for health

Health promotion requires policy makers across all government departments to make health a central line of government policy.

This means they must factor health implications into all the decisions they take, and prioritize policies that prevent people from becoming ill and protect them from injuries.

These policies must be supported by regulations that match private sector incentives with public health goals.

Health promotion policy combines diverse but complementary approaches including legislation, fiscal measures, taxation and organizational change. It is coordinated action that leads to health, income and social policies that foster greater equity. Joint action contributes to ensuring safer and healthier goods and services, healthier public services, and cleaner, more enjoyable environments.

Health promotion policy requires the identification of obstacles to the adoption of healthy public policies in non-health sectors, and ways of removing them. The aim must be to make the healthier choice the easier choice for policy makers as well.

2. Health literacy

People need to acquire the knowledge, skills and information to make healthy choices, for example about the food they eat and healthcare services that they need.

They need to have opportunities to make those choices. And they need to be assured of an environment in which people can demand further policy actions to further improve their health.

Health promotion supports personal and social development through providing information, education for health, and enhancing life skills. By so doing, it increases the options available to people to exercise more control over their own health and over their environments, and to make choices conducive to health.

Enabling people to learn, throughout life, to prepare themselves for all of its stages and to cope with chronic illness and injuries is essential. This has to be facilitated in school, home, work and community settings. Action is required through educational, professional, commercial and voluntary bodies, and within the institutions themselves.

3. Healthy cities

Strong leadership and commitment at the municipal level is essential to healthy urban planning and to build up preventive measures in communities and primary health care facilities.

The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (21 November 1986)

The First International Conference on Health Promotion was held in Ottawa on 21st November, 1986.

Commitment to Health Promotion

The participants in the Conference pledged:

  • to move into the arena of healthy public policy, and to advocate a clear political commitment to health and equity in all sectors;
  • to counteract the pressures towards harmful products, resource depletion, unhealthy living conditions and environments, and bad nutrition; and to focus attention on public health issues such as pollution, occupational hazards, housing and settlements;
  • to respond to the health gap within and between societies, and to tackle the inequities in health produced by the rules and practices of these societies;
  • to acknowledge people as the main health resource; to support and enable them to keep themselves, their families and friends healthy through financial and other means, and to accept the community as the essential voice in matters of its health, living conditions and well-being;
  • to reorient health services and their resources towards the promotion of health; and to share power with other sectors, other disciplines and, most importantly, with people themselves;
  • to recognize health and its maintenance as a major social investment and challenge; and to address the overall ecological issue of our ways of living.

The introduction of strategies for Health Promotion was considered essential for the realization of Health For All by the year 2000

The Ottawa Charter is considered the starting point for any discussion on Health Promotion.


Useful Links:

Link to The Ottawa Charter:



Link to WHO page containing description of the Health Promotion Logo:


Link to WHO page containing Questions and Answers regarding Health Promotion:


Link to WHO’s Glossary of Health Promotion terms:


Link to The Health Promotion Strategic Framework model:


Link to WHO publication ‘Milestones in Health Promotion’:


Link to Handbook on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention:


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