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Why Is Community Health Important?

A Community Health Story
August 15, 2023

People may not realize how much the health of their community impacts their own health, including how long they may live. The difference in life expectancy between two communities located within miles of each other can be great, from 10 years to over 25 years. How can two locations so close to each other drive such a difference? Community health is a big part of the answer.

Elements of Good Community Health

The health of individuals is tied closely to the health of their overall community. In turn, the health of the overall community is an outcome of the collective health of its individual residents. What are factors affecting community health?

Good community health can be created by addressing these key health-related social needs and factors:

  • Access to nutritious food, which means there are accessible stores nearby that sell nutritious food at an affordable price.
  • Access to preventive healthcare services and primary healthcare helps community members prevent illnesses or detect them earlier, at their most treatable stages. Access is defined by the existence of qualified care providers that have flexible and convenient hours of operation, and transportation to reach them is available, accessible, and affordable.
  • Having affordable and accessible housing can improve quality of life, especially for people with disabilities, older adults,  and all marginalized populations.
  • Proximity to green spaces, such as parks and accessible walking trails, provides outlets for physical activity, which can improve physical and mental health through healthy living.

Factors Impacting Community Health and Individual Health

A person’s health is related to where they live as much as it is to their family health history and genetics. Consequences of not investing in community health include a shortened life expectancy and poorer health and well-being. Individual and community health cannot thrive when elements such as access to healthcare, affordable and accessible housing, and nutritious food is unavailable or limited. The data below demonstrate how strongly community health and individual health are intertwined.

  • Nineteen million people, or 6% of the population, have limited access to a grocery store. This can be a factor in the number of people experiencing food insecurity, and adults who experience food insecurity are 32% more likely to develop obesity.
  • Rural communities often experience limited access to primary healthcare services; for example, 56% of rural counties don’t have a local pediatrician. More than 100 million people do not have access to a regular source of primary care services, due to healthcare provider shortages in their communities. It can be difficult to maintain good health when healthcare services are not close by.
  • About 25% of people in the U.S. worry about losing their housing. Life expectancy drops by 27 years for people who experience housing instability and homelessness.
  • Something as simple as access to green space can improve physical and mental health. For example, in Arlington, Virginia, 99% of residents are within a 10-minute walk to a park. Arlington has also been named America’s Fittest City for the sixth consecutive year.

Steps Towards Improving Community Health

When developing their built environment — houses, buildings, roads, parks, sidewalks, and other human-made infrastructure — communities can have a significant impact on both individual and community health. Different strategies can encourage infrastructure and business opportunities that make it easier for residents to purchase and make nutritious food and to make different choices as a result.

Community health also can be improved by supporting small and local businesses within the community. Approximately 67 cents of every dollar spent in a small business stays within its community. The healthier the economy, the more opportunity the community has to thrive and provide greater health improvement opportunities for the people who live there.

Supporting local business can keep money within the community. This money can be used to improve housing affordability and availability, provide infrastructure to increase physical activity while reducing stress and negative environmental factors, and attract businesses that could provide consistent access to nutritious food and healthcare services, expanding employment opportunities. Focusing on the relationship between community health and individual health can help drive more positive health and well-being outcomes for both.

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