Post by Emily Wong, A Consultant of the Wellesley Institute
The Wellesley Institute was lucky to have here today the launch of Rethinking Women and Healthy Living*, hosted by Ontario Women’s Health Network. The presentation started with a look into sex- and gender-based analysis (SGBA) and the need to rethink and reframe the “healthy living” discourse on addressing chronic health diseases. The idea that social determinants of health, like food security and income inequality to name a few, had a more profound impact on women’s health than individual habits was a main theme. As well, the report breaks down our assumptions about whether or not people need education about healthy food, rather than access to healthy food. The assumptions we’ve been acting on regarding women’s health have been skewed too heavily, they said, to personal blame rather than looking at the broader picture.
Along with many other countries, Canada has adopted the healthy living discourse as shown in the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial governments’ release of the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy in 2005. The presenters noted the strategy’s objectives to improve health outcomes in chronic diseases and reduce health inequities.
The Healthy Living discourse – centred on having an active lifestyle, eating well, managing weight using Body Mass Index (BMI), and stopping smoking – takes an individualistic responsibility approach on health that places limited attention to the context of broader influences on health such as sex, gender, and diversity (which the presenters explicitly stated that encompasses ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, etc.). Their report aims to address the limited nature and gaps of the healthy living discourse by using a Health Indicator Framework and a SGBA. The Health Indicator Framework consists of information and data on health statuses, social determinants of health, health system performance, and community and structural factors. On the other hand, the SGBA of Healthy Living Strategies looks at health differences among different populations of women and includes other contributors of health, including:
- Sodium consumption
- Sedentary behavior
- Food insecurity
- Alcohol intake
- Sexual behavior
- Condom use
The presentation concluded with some promising practices of new approaches to healthy living that shifts from individual to social responsibility. A particularly interesting practice is Trauma-Informed Physical Activity, as used by Yoga Outreach in Vancouver. Yoga Outreach uses mindfulness-based yoga programming to provide sessions for men and women facing challenges in mental health, violence, and other traumas, by adopting practices such as adequate lighting, and the absence of breathing techniques and physical posture correction unless consented upon.
*The report “Rethinking Women and Healthy Living in Canada” was edited by A. Penderson, M. J. Haorth-Brockman, B.Clow, H. Isfled, and A. Linwander through the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, and the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.