Strengthening Community

En Español

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For science.
Community encompasses every aspect of our lives – it’s where we live, work, learn, play and pray. These make up the social determinants of health, and too many people in the U.S. face community barriers to health and well-being. At least 4 million U.S. households are home to children exposed to high levels of lead,1 and around 6 million U.S. homes are considered substandard.2 Our social communities affect our health behaviors, too. Teens are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors like smoking,3 texting while driving or not wearing a seatbelt4 if their friends do the same. Additionally, elderly individuals, who live alone and feel lonely, are at 26% higher risk for mortality.5 Even among the general population, loneliness has been found to be a greater health risk than obesity.6

For action.
Get information on how your state uses public health funding and uses Health Impact Assessments to identify key public health concerns in your community. Engage your public health peers and elected officials on these topics through social media, including on Facebook and Twitter. Join a community garden or donate healthy canned food options to food pantries. Encourage local officials to support healthy community design that includes parks, sidewalks and bike lanes – and to fund programs to prevent poor living conditions. Stay informed about news within your school district to make sure low-income children are getting their needs met so they can learn. Ask questions at public forums, like virtual town halls, to start conversations about public health.

For health.
People with greater feelings of support and inclusion within their networks tend to live longer,7 respond better to stress and have stronger immune systems8 than those who are isolated from their communities. Social support and family acceptance among LGBTQ youth significantly reduce attempted suicide rates.9 Transgender youth have lower suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior when their chosen name is consistently used.10 Negative health behaviors, like smoking, alcohol and drug use, decrease as people in an individual’s social networks stop as well.11 Well-maintained sidewalks encourage physical activity,12 and safe biking networks lead to more cycling and fewer injuries among bicyclists.13 Rates of preventable deaths typically go down in communities where local public health spending goes up.14

For justice.
Communities of color often face greater health risks and have fewer health-promoting opportunities than their white counterparts.15 These risks have consequences that extend beyond the home: Inequalities in health care access and housing discrimination increase the rate of chronic illnesses,16 crime and violence17 and lowered levels of educational attainment.18 LGBTQ individuals face disproportionately higher risks for STDs, cardiovascular disease, obesity and suicide.19 The lack of minorities in leadership within their professions and communities contributes to the persistent disparities seen in public health.20 Build racial equity into the DNA of your public health work.21 Listen to community leaders and organizers who know what their communities need, and support the work they’re already doing to create change.