COHP: 47 years at the forefront of change

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 47 , No. 1 , January February 2005 , Pages 16 COHP

What made you choose a career in medicine? While there are many possible answers, for most physicians, the answer is rooted in a desire to promote health. Individual physicians promote health every day. Collectively, BC physicians put this goal into action through the BCMA Council on Health Promotion (COHP). 

Originally called the Health Planning Council, the BCMA Board of Directors established the Council in 1957 out of a belief that the BCMA had a role to play in serving physicians and other British Columbians by educating and improving awareness of topical public health issues. 

In its early days under the leadership of Dr Russ Palmer, there were 95 physicians involved with the Health Planning Council and its 17 committees. The Council included two divisions: Health Services and Public Health. Over the years the Council replaced its dual focus with a central interest in public health promotion. By 1985, when our group was renamed the Council on Health Promotion, it contained 14 committees all associated with public health. The number of COHP committees shrunk to 6 in 2003 and is now up to 10. Committees serve an essential role to COHP, as the place where ideas are generated and action takes place. 

Ten individuals have served as the chairperson for COHP prior to me. Many of these individuals, including Drs Hedy Fry, Granger Avery, Jim Lane, and Heidi Oetter, took on the COHP leadership immediately preceding or following a term as BCMA President. As a result, COHP has enjoyed years of strong leadership from individuals with a sincere dedication to fostering changes to public health in BC. 

As a BCMA Standing Committee, the Council’s role today is much the same as it was when the group was formed. It serves an advisory function to the Board of Directors on community health and health promotion issues, acts as a BCMA liaison with other community health organizations, speaks to the media on behalf of the BCMA on community health and health promotion topics, and works in consultation with government and nongovernment agencies on issues related to community health and health promotion. 

Health promotion is a long-term process. Achieving a health promotion goal requires careful timing, public education, partnerships with other organizations, and months or even years of lobbying work. However, looking back over the past 47 years, COHP has been a leading voice at the forefront of change on numerous issues. Many of the causes taken up by COHP were groundbreaking at the time. However, through legislation and social changes, these issues have become generally accepted and normalized aspects of our society. 

Whether the issue was bicycle helmets, mandatory seatbelt use, banning uranium mining, pesticide use and regulations, water safety, tobacco advertising bans, limiting alcohol consumption by pregnant women, school health education, or aboriginal health issues, the BCMA, through COHP, has been at the vanguard, leading changes that increase the health of British Columbians. 

In 2002 COHP adopted a project-based approach that pulls together the expertise of members from various COHP committees. In 2003–04 this change in direction resulted in the Seniors Living Well project which has helped strengthen BCMA’s relationship with other health advocacy groups, increased BCMA’s visibility as an advocate for public health, and demonstrated the need for a provincial strategy for managing dementia care in BC. As a result of this project, the government has adopted dementia into the chronic disease management program. 

COHP begins the new year with a new project aimed at promoting healthy active living for parents and children. With the rising rate of childhood obesity constantly in the news, COHP is responding with a public campaign aimed at speaking to parents about making healthy lifestyle changes for their families around balanced eating habits and increased physical activity. Watch for further news about this project as it progresses over the next few months, and for increased information from COHP on the BCMA web site (www.bcma.org). 

I encourage any doctor with an interest in health promotion to get involved with a COHP committee. We would welcome your involvement. Please contact Ms Wil Taylor at the BCMA, tel: 604 638-2842 or e-mail: wtaylor@bcma.bc.ca for more information. 

—J. William Mackie, MD
Chair, Council on Health Promotion

Bill Mackie, MD. COHP: 47 years at the forefront of change. BCMJ, Vol. 47, No. 1, January, February, 2005, Page(s) 16 - COHP.



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