Culture matters: using a cultural contexts of health approach to enhance policy-making. New World Health Organisation report.

Becca and Professor Michael Depledge have co-authored a new report with WHO Europe on the importance of culture to health and wellbeing policy making. The report is part of a wider programme of work on the Cultural Contexts of Health at the WHO.


The policy focused briefing was developed in response to increasing awareness among policymakers and the public health community of the importance of relationship between culture and health. By focusing on three key public health areas of nutrition, migration and environment, the policy brief aims to demonstrate how cultural awareness is central to understanding health and wellbeing and to developing more effective and equitable health policies.

In the Environment section we note that whilst human health is directly linked to that of the environment through various physical processes, ideas of nature and the place of humans within it are deeply influenced by social and cultural contexts. For instance, the social and cultural heritage embodied within landscapes provides a sense of continuity across generations and contributes to healthy identity construction, which can in turn have a protective effect on health and well-being. Ethnographic studies of reduced health inequalities in deindustrialized and relatively deprived areas of northeast England, for example, suggest that strong cultural and historical links between community members and their environment partially explain the better-than-expected health outcomes.

Understanding how cultural conceptions of the environment relate to human health and well-being is critical for the formation of both environment and health policy. However there are number of barriers to this being achieved. We identified four specific policy and practice needs:

  1. Investigate how cultural contexts influence perceptions of and engagement with the environment, and how strong cultural bonds between people and the places they value enhance human health and well-being
  2. Develop methodologies that allow for the integration of complex evidence of cultural value(s) into health- and environment-related decision-making.
  3. Recognize and build on cultural practices that promote positive engagement with green and blue spaces.
  4. Address inequities and perceived barriers that prevent certain groups from forging meaningful connections with, and thus benefiting from, green and blue spaces.

The report concludes by noting that incorporating cultural awareness into policy-making and policy implementation is critical to the development of adaptive, equitable and sustainable health care for all.

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