As a part of your community, you have an essential role in promoting public health. You may not realize it, but a healthy community profoundly impacts the health, social and economic aspects of your and your neighbors’ everyday lives.
Community health concentrates on people’s physical and mental well-being in a particular region. This sphere of public health creates initiatives and programs for people to improve their quality of life, ensure public safety and prevent the spread of disease.
However, it also demands a collective responsibility for living healthfully in a cohesive way. Rather than strictly focusing on individual health, community members must support the health of their neighbors, as well. As such, there are key elements for fostering a healthy community, including the following:
- Health education and access to medical care
- Equitable public transportation and pedestrian safety
- Educational achievement
- Employment opportunities
- Safe, clean physical environments
- Programs that support mental health
- Safe housing
Consider how community health influences financial prosperity, our sense of safety and happiness and even life expectancy. If that’s not enough to convince you to support health in your community, here are five more reasons.
1. Engages Community Members
Community health seeks to engage members in issues that matter while encouraging their participation in finding practical solutions.
For example, the Minnesota Department of Health stands by several principles for successful community engagement, starting with the following:
- Community members and groups must work in a partnership to define local health problems.
- Individuals must work together to address and identify diversity inequities and accessibility to human and health services.
- Communities must develop resources and learn to be more flexible to meet their city’s changing public health requirements.
A more actively engaged community is a stronger community that recognizes common goals, practices individual accountability for the greater whole and works in tandem to achieve optimal public health.
2. Delivers Social Support
Each state’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) deploys critical social programs that support families, individuals and groups within a community. Some of the HHS programs may include:
- Programs for people with disabilities that provide resources, tools and assistance in seeking greater independence, access to caregivers or an advocate for disability discrimination in healthcare settings
- Support high-risk homeless populations, coordinating medical, behavioral and human health services with housing programs
- Provide Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance to low-income families and children, skills-based training for work, preventative sexual and reproductive health services, support for domestic violence victims and aid for at-home child care
These HHS programs are only a few of the many initiatives to strengthen multicultural societies. Providing these advocacy and support resources helps create a more fair and healthy community.
3. Helps Prevent and Manage Chronic Conditions
Proper nutrition and exercise are critical for preventing and managing chronic health conditions, such as obesity, heart and lung disease, asthma and other bodily aches and pains.
The likelihood of people taking responsibility for their physical health is higher if their community supports them in their effort. For example, a neighborhood park renowned for assault crimes or litter isn’t going to draw joggers — neither are poorly-lit streets, dangerous biking trails or dirty facilities.
Children living in poverty also face higher rates of obesity due to higher fast-food consumption and the least amount of exercise. Often, low-income families lack access to adequate nutrition and grocery stores.
A healthy community can combat disease and obesity by implementing health workshops and programs in schools, offering nutrition education to teach children about eating a balanced diet and developing affordable and accessible community-based exercise programs.
City departments, including Parks and Recreation and law enforcement, can also ensure that public spaces are clean and safe for people to use.
4. Promotes Public Safety
According to a 2019 survey by Smart Growth America, Florida is the most dangerous state for pedestrians due to rapid development, urban sprawl and wider roadways — increased traffic ultimately leads to more people getting hit by cars. Of course, low-income communities, people of color and older adults are the most vulnerable populations.
By 2050, the World Health Organization (WHO) anticipates that 22% of people worldwide will be over 60 years old. A closer look at the transportation sector indicates a need to improve access to better public health.
Public transit is necessary for getting around a city — especially for those seeking medical attention, support services, groceries or commuting to work. It also helps reduce traffic-related injuries and death and decreases air pollution.
Expanding transportation services delivers equitable opportunities for community members who rely on it the most, such as older adults, people with disabilities, low-income workers and women.
5. Builds a Stronger Economy
Studies show a correlation between good health and a robust economy. A person’s job and income directly affect their quality of life, access to health care and life expectancy — meanwhile, physical and mental health impacts their ability to work.
Approximately 22.8% of people who make less than $35,000 annually report poor health, while only 5.6% with salaries over $100,000 do the same.
Although unemployed people have access to public health benefits, those classified as short-term unemployed or self-employed typically do not.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), self-employed people were more likely to skip an annual check-up last year. Additionally, 40% of unemployed people reported mental health problems, hypertension and high cholesterol.
If you want your community to thrive economically, supporting community-wide access to adequate health care —regardless of race, gender, social status or employment — is of the utmost importance.
A Healthy Community Leads to Improved Quality of Life
A healthy community maintains the vital health, social and economic components of improving quality of life. Every community member can step up and make a difference by supporting programs, policies and infrastructure that keep public health at the forefront.