Empowering people to be healthier: public health nutrition through the Ottawa Charter

Type Article

Journal Article


M. A. Flynn

Year of publication



Proc Nutr Soc








The WHO's Ottawa Charter highlights five priority areas for taking action in public health. Only one of them is at the individual level as action at more upstream intervention levels, such as community or policy levels, is critical for enabling individuals to succeed. The objective of the present paper is to give insight into the many complex processes involved in public health nutrition by describing the Ottawa Charter's five priority areas for taking action using public health nutrition initiatives I have been involved in. Evidence-based guidelines for healthy eating and infant feeding provide an essential basis for individuals to 'develop personal skills' (Action Area 1). 'Re-orienting health services' (Action Area 2) can address the needs of vulnerable population subgroups, such as the culturally sensitive diabetes prevention programme established for an Indo-Asian community in Canada. Identifying geographic areas at high risk of childhood obesity enables better strategic planning and targeting of resources to 'strengthen community action' (Action Area 3). Calorie menu labelling can 'create supportive environments' (Action Area 4) through encouraging a demand for less energy-dense, healthier food options. 'Building healthy public policy' (Action Area 5) to implement mandatory folic acid food fortification for prevention of birth defects has many advantages over a voluntary approach. In conclusion, evaluation and evidence-based decision-making needs to take account of different strategies used to take action in each of these priority areas. For this, the randomised control trial needs adaptation to determine the best practice in public health nutrition where interventions play out in real life with all its confounding factors.