Healthy living looks different to each individual.
But a healthy community is something everyone can visualize. And a goal to which every community can aspire.
It means better access to healthy foods, safe parks and playgrounds for kids, improved routes to walk and bike to school and work, and lowering the incidence of diseases — from diabetes to obesity to heart disease and beyond.
We can look at aggregate numbers of health behaviors and indicators that we want to improve — easy targets are smoking rates, obesity levels, amounts of exercise and incidences of high blood pressure — but everyone in our community will not be able to achieve every metric.
But everyone can get healthier.
As we focus on building healthier communities, let's not forget individualism. That's why community minded health initiatives must focus on helping people achieve individual goals while aiming for a community goal. By doing so, we can help everyone find and reach their highest level of health — and improve all those aggregate measurements that give us an overall community health score.
Last month the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America issued a report, Collaboration to Build Healthier Communities, which explored how cross-sector partnerships can foster an environment that promote health.
The report lauded the many and now widespread partnerships across the U.S. that are beginning to make a tangible difference in people's lives (I was proud to be a founding member of such a group, Voices for a Healthy SouthCoast).
The report offered three recommendations to keep the momentum going:
- National leadership: Many of these collabortions are local and regional. The RWJF suggests a formal national network to tie them together.
- Better skills and knowledge: Build an educational and training system that imparts technical and communication skills that will help these coalitions build capacity.
- Build through measurement: Create evidence-based resources, such as a national database, to help document and promote the progress. This will help bolster existing projects and give rise and confidence to those that are emerging.
It is exciting to see such great momentum, solid ideas and positive energy in the make our communities healthier movement.