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Building the Health Promotion Capacity of the Canadian Health Network

I What Is the Canadian Health Network?

The Canadian Health Network (CHN),, has been providing bilingual, non-commercial, credible, web-based information to help Canadians stay healthy and prevent disease and injury since its launch by Health Canada in 1999. Now in its fifth year, the CHN collection contains more than 17,000 web resources from more than 1,000 Canadian organizations, which meet high standards for quality assurance. The organizations include federal, provincial and territorial governments, hospitals, health organizations, libraries, and universities, as well as nongovernmental and community organizations.

A unique feature of CHN is the network of partner affiliate organizations which are responsible for collecting and updating relevant resources on the website. The information encompasses 27 different groups and topics. CHN Affiliate organizations are major health organizations across Canada within particular fields of expertise. These include the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Canadian Child Care Federation, and the Canadian Public Health Association. In fact, this partnership between the federal government and non-governmental organizations is the first of its kind in the world.

II Re-Emphasizing Health Promotion

CHN is undergoing a period of renewal. It is part of the new Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which is focussed on three areas: chronic disease and injury prevention, public health emergencies, and infectious diseases. CHN can play a unique role within PHAC as the portal for consumer-oriented health information on prevention and health promotion.

CHN has also begun to strengthen its focus on health promotion through new strategic directions for 2004 and 2006:

1. Strengthen the CHN's Focus on Health Promotion by increasing the emphasis on information on all of the health determinants

2. Better Respond to the Diverse Needs of Canadians

3. Broaden the Scope and Strengthen Current Relationships

4. Improve Accountability to Canadians

In addition to strengthening the focus on health promotion, CHN is also implementing strategies to better support the unique health challenges of Aboriginal people; Francophone Canadians; and rural, remote, and northern Canadians.

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III A New Health Promotion Affiliate at CHN

In order to fulfill the mandate of the first strategic direction, CHN has established a Health Promotion Affiliate, which became operational in May 2004. The Health Promotion Affiliate is a partnership of the Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse (OPC) and the Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto (CHP).

OPC, established in 1985, is one of Canada's longest-standing health promotion organizations. Working in both official languages, OPC facilitates and empowers individuals, groups, and communities to work towards the realization of social, emotional, physical and environmental health and well being.

The CHP, established in 1989, is a self-supporting unit of the University of Toronto's Department of Public Health Sciences and a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Health Promotion. It is a community-academic partnership, committed to excellence in education, evaluation, and research. CHP develops and evaluates innovative health promotion approaches in Canada and abroad.

Together, OPC and CHP bring to CHN a unique knowledge base, skill set, and network of contacts within the field of health promotion in Canada and internationally. CHN has never had a Health Promotion Affiliate so our first priority is to systematically review and update the entire health promotion collection. The Health Promotion Affiliate is employing the health promotion expertise of both partner organizations to redevelop the health promotion collection and to review and improve the messages on the health promotion web page on CHN.

In addition, the Health Promotion Affiliate will work collaboratively with CHN and the CHN affiliates to build the health promotion capacity of the CHN as a whole, including all of the Affiliate collections and messaging across the CHN website. In order to accomplish this, the Health Promotion Affiliate will provide leadership and consultation to CHN and the other affiliates on the following key activities.

* Education and Training: to build a common understanding and approach to health promotion and disease prevention

* Health Promotion Collection Guidelines: to achieve a more comprehensive range of health promotion materials in each collection including information on the determinants of health, action areas, strategies, and settings

* Health Promotion Discussion Forum: to identify Health Promotion expertise, within the CHN affiliation, in order to strengthen communication and work towards a common health promotion language

Currently, the CHN website contains resources that are focussed predominantly on individual lifestyle and health behaviour changes. The main objective of the Health Promotion Affiliate is to include the broader perspective of heath promotion strategies and approaches to the Health Promotion collection and to the CHN collections as a whole.

The current Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin (OHPE) subject classification is guiding the health promotion collection redevelopment. This classification, which many OHPE subscribers are familiar with, provides a useful framework with which to evaluate the comprehensiveness of the health promotion collection and messaging. The health promotion subject classification includes seven areas: Determinants, Action Areas, Generic Strategies, Settings, Priority Populations, Issues and the Foundations of Health Promotion (you can view the framework on OHPE's subject search page at

A number of these areas, for example, priority populations and issues, are currently being covered by other Affiliates within their collections. Therefore, the Health Promotion collection development strategy will be to create a "generic" collection of health promotion resources that does not include topic specific resources and health promotion tools that better fit within other CHN health centres. This will ensure that applied health promotion tools and content are present throughout the CHN collections and within all of the 27 health centres.

Currently on CHN, the determinants of health are a separate collection from health promotion. Since the determinants of health encompass the wide range of factors that impact health and are therefore inextricable from the field of health promotion, the Health Promotion Affiliate has asked to assume eventual responsibility for that collection. In the meantime, we will endeavour to add to the determinants of health collection as a part of our overall rebuilding efforts.

The Health Promotion collection will become a dynamic repository for the best Canadian and selected international health promotion resources on the World Wide Web. We will be working closely with prominent health promotion, community development, social justice organizations, and our network contributors across Canada to expand the range of content within the Health Promotion collection. Our current network contributors include Community Health Promotion Atlantic, Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre, Association of Ontario Health Centres, Canadian Consortium of Health Promotion Research, the University of British Columbia's Institute for Health Research and Réseau québécois de villes and villages en santé.

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What to Look For Over the Next Year on CHN

Over the next year, CHN will take on a new look and become a better resource for both consumers of e-health information and for health promoters. Our planned changes include

* Updated and more comprehensive subject terminology

* New resources on health promotion reflective of the updated and expanded subject terminology

* New quick searches that will link readers to, for example, the foundation documents within health promotion like the Ottawa Charter and the Jakarta Declaration

* New and more inclusive description of health promotion on the health promotion page within CHN

* Updated and reviewed Frequently Asked Questions, designed to orient people to the field of health promotion

As the Health Promotion Affiliate, we intend to completely review and update our collection, frequently asked questions, quick searches, and other home page material in order to reflect the broader field of health promotion including the social determinants of health. We hope that these changes will serve as a model for the rest of the CHN website and that it will continue to improve as a resource for consumers and health promoters alike.

We are very interested in hearing from health promoters and other users of the CHN website as we move forward with building the health promotion capacity of the CHN. Please contact Krissa Fay, Network Development Coordinator at with your feedback, suggestions for new resources or other comments.