Our sense of community belonging and having people to confide in can have an enormous effect on our health, and is as important to measure as smoking and physical activity.
VANCOUVER – According to the latest My Health My Community report, Lower Mainland residents who feel a strong connection to their community are 2.6 times more likely to report being in good health and 3.2 times more likely to report good mental health.
Social connection is linked to people’s ability to deal with stress, and those who have positive relationships also have healthier behaviours like being physically active and eating fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown people with poor social connection have 50 per cent greater risk of premature death than those with stronger connections; an effect as strong as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. To better understand this emerging public health issue, My Health My Community asked residents about two key indicators of social connection: Sense of community belonging and how many people they have to confide in.
“My Health My Community is an effective tool to assess the health of our population,” said Vancouver Coastal Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Réka Gustafson. “By measuring it, we are highlighting social connection, an important area of focus for all of us who are interesting in improving the health of people in our communities.”
According to the report, those who have at least seven people they can confide in are 70 per cent more likely to report good health and 3.4 times more likely to be in good mental health. However, the survey also found that 43 per cent of residents in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health reported “low” or “very low” sense of community belonging.
“The My Health My Community data suggests that some of our residents are experiencing poor social connections which can affect their overall health. We are committed to working with communities and other partners to maximize the health of all our residents,” said Fraser Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Ingrid Tyler.
The report reinforces the importance of work already underway to improve social connection. Vancouver Coastal Health is working with its communities to improve social connection though grants and initiatives like the City of Vancouver’s Healthy City Strategy and the Richmond Community Wellness Strategy. Fraser Health supports the health promotion activities of communities across the region through Healthy Community Partnerships that work with local municipalities and community groups to support healthy living initiatives that also foster mental wellness. The Canadian Mental Health Association also has a helpful guide for people on how they can work on their own social connections. The latest My Health My Community report will continue to inform municipalities as they build healthier communities.
Additional highlights from the report include:
- Women were 19 per cent more likely to have a strong sense of community and 54 per cent more likely to have 4+ people to confide in.
- Income has no association with a strong sense of community belonging.
- People who report that their neighbourhood has pathways for cycling or walking, well-maintained sidewalks, amenities within walking distance, access to fruits and vegetables, less traffic, attractive natural sites and feeling safe walking after dark were 2.7 times more likely to report a strong sense of community belonging.
“This report certainly affirms the importance of connectedness to individual health and wellness, an important issue that we should highlight to our medical students and health professional trainees,” said Dr. Kendall Ho, a professor in UBC’s department of emergency medicine and lead of the digital emergency medicine unit. “Health care professionals should discuss these issues with their patients to get a better picture of their overall health and wellbeing.”
The My Health My Community survey was created in partnership by Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and researchers with UBC Faculty of Medicine. Recently analyzed results from the survey, which was conducted in 2013-2014, asked more than 33,000 people to provide information about their health, lifestyle choices, community involvement and neighbourhood characteristics.
Vancouver Coastal Health is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and long term care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides highly specialized care and services for people throughout B.C., and is the province’s hub of health care education and research.
Fraser Health provides a wide range of integrated health services to the largest and fastest-growing population in British Columbia. The health authority is committed to improving the health of the population and the quality of life of more than 1.8 million people living in communities from Burnaby to White Rock to Hope.