The National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics developed a list of 10 factors that contribute to community health and can be measured and targeted for improvement. They are community vitality, demographics, economy, education, environment, food and agriculture, health, housing, public safety, and transportation.
Only one of these 10 factors directly addresses traditional health issues like disease prevalence and health behaviors. In many cases, the biggest question is whether infrastructure exists and is accessible; for example, whether grocery stores or health clinics are present in a community, and if access to quality, affordable housing is available.
Advancing change can come in different forms:
- Grassroots community efforts, which involve community members banding together and creating change from within.
- Local government initiatives, which can provide significant funding and address large-scale infrastructure issues like transportation and education.
- Business and nonprofit investments, a key component for adding new grocery stores or health clinics.
- Partnerships that allow health systems to connect directly with communities, working with local organizations to make a difference.
Ideally, efforts combine the strengths of multiple players across multiple community health factors to support health. In the best cases, community wellness efforts have ripple effects: Opening new grocery stores in a community directly improves access to food, but it also adds jobs, increases economic activity, and may contribute to improved community vitality. Adding new public transportation may improve access to healthcare resources, jobs, and community hubs.
Applying the Health of a Community to Individuals
To ensure a positive community health impact, help should be focused where it matters most: on the lives of the individuals who make up the community. Each community member is unique and faces different challenges, so improvements need to be made with an eye toward the specific needs of a community’s members. Some common areas where community and individual health intersect:
- Behavioral health may be tied to community health. There are numerous links between behavioral health and social connectedness, nutrition, access to healthcare resources, and other social drivers of health.
- Obesity varies by community. In one study, a relationship between median home values and obesity rates was observed, with obesity increasing as home values decreased. This points to disparities in wealth and community features.
- Food insecurity is a significant contributor to negative health outcomes. People who live in areas without easy access to grocery stores or nutritious food options are more prone to a range of health conditions.
- Maternal health, which encompasses the well-being and health of pregnant women, new parents and newborns, is highly sensitive to social drivers of health, including income, educational attainment and healthcare access, as documented by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
An Opportunity for Focused Efforts on Community Wellness
With an improved focus on community wellness, the healthcare system can partner to create positive community health impacts. Data-driven insights can help identify community and individual needs, so all relevant partners can determine the best way to support whole health.
When we integrate social aspects like transportation, nutrition, and the local economy into our view of community health, recognizing that access to healthcare, transportation, and other necessities is often at the heart of health inequities, we can start to build stronger communities that are better able to support the health of their members.