Politics, Policies, Practices and Outcomes: Despite Canada’s Reputation, the Nordic Nations are the Leaders in Health Promotion

Dennis Raphael, Toba Bryant


Nordic nations’ public policy approaches to securing economic and social security for its members -- embedded within their tradition of social democratic governance – provide what the World Health Organization (WHO) initially termed the prerequisites of health, now known as the social determinants of health. In contrast, Canada, traditionally seen as providing leadership in developing health promotion concepts and practices, fares rather poorly against the Nordic yardstick. In this article, we argue it is now the Nordic nations that provide leadership in implementing policies and practices consistent with WHO principles of health promotion at the national, regional and municipal levels.  These politics and practices – and the positive health outcomes associated with them -- derive from the distinctive politics of the Nordic welfare state. Nevertheless, threats associated with growing acceptance of neoliberal approaches to governance and anti-immigrant sentiment threaten these achievements. We review these developments from a Canadian perspective contrasting the Nordic public policy and health promotion scene with Canada to illustrate both the achievements and threats to the Nordic scene.


Nordic welfare state; Canada, health promotion, neoliberalism, anti-immigrant sentiment



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