The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion: After 29 Years

By Gillian Christie

Today, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion celebrates its 29th anniversary.

The origins of the Ottawa Charter commenced in November 1986, when international delegates convened for the First International Conference on Health Promotion in Ottawa, Canada. Sponsored by  the Canadian Public Health Association, Health and Welfare Canada, and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Conference aspired to move towards a new public health by building on outputs from a debate at the World Health Assembly on intersectoral action for health (1977), the Declaration on Primary Health Care at Alma-Ata (1978), and the WHO’s Targets for Health for All paper (1985).

Health promotion was defined as “the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health.” To attain complete physical, mental, and social well-being, health must be viewed as a “resource for everyday life, not the objective of living.”

On the ultimate day of the Conference – November 21 – delegates signed the Ottawa Charter, a pledge to achieve health for all by 2000 and beyond. The Conference called for the WHO and other international organizations to advocate for health and to support the creation of strategies and programs for promoting health. The Ottawa Charter included five drivers to delineate action for health promotion:

  1. Build Healthy Public Policy
  2. Create Supportive Environments
  3. Strengthen Community Actions
  4. Develop Personal Skills
  5. Reorient Health Services

While the Ottawa Charter largely viewed health promotion as within the domain of government, new drivers exist today to promote health as reflected in the Vitality Institute Recommendations. The activities of the private sector – whether through the Shared Value framework or in addressing the new Sustainable Development Goals, approaches embedded in behavioral economics, and personalized health technologies are simply a few examples. Although many drivers remain the same to those proposed in 1986, collaborating across the public and private sectors on the 29th anniversary of the Ottawa Charter will be necessary to generate rapid and sustained progress, addressing its call to action to improve the health of populations worldwide.


Did you already know about the Ottawa Charter? How do you think the Ottawa Charter has changed since 1986? How can it be improved so it has complete applicability today? What is your organization doing to address health and well-being in the lead up to the Ottawa Charter’s 30th Anniversary in 2016? Let us know in the comments section below or by tweeting at us! @VitalityUSA or @gchristie34

Image/Thumbnail Caption: World Health Organization’s Health Promotion Emblem (Created at the First International Conference on Health Promotion in Ottawa, 1986)


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