Twenty years have passed since the philosophy and principals were formulated in the Ottawa Charter for health promotion. A critical reflection of the content and success of the Ottawa Charter was published before the IUHPE World Conference in Vancover in June 2007. This paper contextualizes and discusses Salutogenesis and Antonovsky in the development of health promotion practice and research and, further, relates the salutogenic concept Sense of Coherence (SOC) to the Ottawa Charter.

An overview of the development of health promotion and the salutogenic theory of health is presented. In addition, this is illustrated in a new way using the metaphors of ‘health in the river of life’ and ‘SOC in a life course perspective’. Health promotion, including the Ottawa charter, lacks a clear theoretical foundation. The results of a systematic review of salutogenic research are used to demonstrate how the salutogenic framework could support the philosophical and practical intentions of the OC. The salutogenic model contributes to the maintenance and development of health and quality of life (QoL), i.e. the process and outcome of the principles of the OC. The metaphor of the river and the life cycle are new ways of demonstrating the paradigm shift provided by the Salutogenesis and health promotion in relation to public health and medicine. The salutogenic theory is an important contribution to the theory base of health promotion research and practice.