School health involves many different ways of working together to maintain and improve the health of students, staff, and others in a school community. It can be overwhelming, with many possible areas of focus.

In Alberta, we use common definitions, concepts, and frameworks to bring consistency and coordination to school health. Our actions are informed by high-quality science, practical experience, and traditional wisdom. 

On this page, you can learn more about our foundations:


Health means different things to different people in Alberta. For some, health is about avoiding sickness, injury, or disease. For others, it’s about taking care of themselves by eating nutritious food, being active, managing stress, or getting enough sleep. Health includes all of these ideas, and more.

Here are some common definitions:

  • The World Health Organization explains health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. 
  • The Government of Canada considers health as a resource or asset that helps us lead our everyday lives.
  • Alberta Education supports a broad definition of health, organized by five dimensions of wellness: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. 
  • Indigenous perspectives on health are often rooted in culture, strength, and traditional ways knowing. They’re holistic and encompass mental, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions of well-being. 

The social determinants of health

Health isn't simply a matter of genetics or lifestyle. It's shaped by our experiences and environments as we live, learn, work, and play. 

The social determinants of health are broad social and economic influences—like income, education, childhood experiences, or working conditions—that affect our place in society and our health status. Discrimination, racism, and historical trauma are important social determinants of health for many Albertans, and can be systemic barriers to accessing health care. 

As we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see the complex ways that the social determinants of health influence health outcomes.


Public health

Public health works at a population level to keep people safe and healthy.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped many people understand the important role public health plays in detecting, preventing, and responding to viruses. 

Public health also spans other areas, including:

  • Surveillance and epidemiology
  • Research and community consultation
  • Risk assessment and response
  • Policy and intervention, including emergency preparedness, health protection, and health promotion 

Public health aims to understand why some people are healthier than others, and to eliminate health inequities—differences in health between population groups that are socially produced, unfair, unjust, and avoidable. Public health creates opportunities and conditions for all people in Alberta to meet their full health potential, regardless of who they are or where they live in the province.

Health inequities are differences that are unjust and modifiable. For example, some people in rural or remote parts of Alberta do not have the same access to nutritious food (like vegetables and fruit) as people in other parts of the province.

Health promotion

Health promotion is defined as the process of enabling people to increase control over, and improve their health.  It's a key aspect of public health practice, often aimed at factors that make it more likely (or less likely) a person will experience a health problem. 

  • Risk factors contribute to the development or worsening of a health problem
  • Protective factors lessen the likelihood of a problem, or protect from risk

Some risk and protective factors are well-known—for example, smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer, and physical activity is a protective factor for obesity. Others are closely tied to the social determinants of health, and are not distributed equally across the population.

Health promotion aims to shift the balance in favour of protective factors over risk factors. In the lives of even the most vulnerable people, protective factors can improve health outcomes. 

School health promotion

Often, health promotion focuses on places where people spend time, like schools, communities, and workplaces. Healthy places are designed and developed to promote good health.

School health promotion is grounded in decades of practice-based research. It has been shown to:

  • Enhance learning
    Students perform better at school when they’re well—for example, when they’ve had enough sleep, are fueled by nutritious food, and are able to cope with life’s ups-and-downs. 
  • Encourage lifelong health habits
    School years span a period of important growth, development, and change. There is huge potential to help young people learn and practice health at school, and to have these experiences carry forward into adulthood. 
  • Improve health status
    Studies show that school health promotion increases students' levels of physical activity and fitness, intake of healthy food (like vegetables and fruit), ability to cope with stress, social emotional skills, and overall sense of well-being. It also decreases students' reports of anxiety and depression, substance use, risky sexual behaviour, bullying, and anti-social behaviour. 

School health promotion involves strong partnerships, collaboration, and synergy between health and education. In Alberta, we use the comprehensive school health framework to inform and guide our collective action.

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