What Really Influences Health?

Mar. 21, 2019

Shoshanna Levine


When you think about health in your neighborhood, what do you think about? Maybe it’s the walking group that meets in the park on Saturdays, the reminders to get your flu shot, or the new urgent care clinic that opened up down the road. But what about whether your neighbors can afford safe housing for their whole family? Or if you can find a job that lets you meet all of your household expenses?

You might be surprised to hear that housing, employment, poverty, and other social and economic factors are just as important for creating healthy communities as making sure people have access to health care and practice healthy behaviors. For example, Kaiser Permanente recently made a big bet on the impact of housing on health, investing millions of dollars in housing-focused initiatives in the Bay Area to improve the health within their community. Policymakers are starting to realize this as well, and everyone from mayors to the health department and other local government departments to community groups are looking beyond the traditional medical system to improve health and well-being in their communities.

A one-stop resource to help

We have a tool that can help leaders uncover challenges in their communities and explore solutions. Most data on health and its drivers (e.g., housing and access to healthy food) are not organized at the city (or neighborhood) level, but at the county, state or national level. A new article just released in the American Journal of Public Health describes how the City Health Dashboard equips the 500 largest cities with an easy-to-use resource to view and compare data on over 37 measures from multiple sources on health and the factors that shape health. In this article, we discuss the development of the Dashboard and the methods used to calculate the measures at the city and neighborhood level. Case studies from four cities that piloted the Dashboard from 2017 to 2018 highlight how cities are already leveraging the power of data to improve the health and well-being of everyone in their community.

We are also hearing how the Dashboard is starting conversations between city governments and community organizations to help each accomplish their goals.  For example, in the city of Clifton, NJ, the local health department is conducting a Community Health Assessment as an integral component of their application to become a nationally accredited public health department.  The Dashboard gives a mid-size city like Clifton the data at the neighborhood level that was otherwise difficult to access. City leaders shared the Dashboard’s neighborhood and demographic data on health equity with the local community health organizations that comprise the Steps to a Healthier Clifton coalition to better understand the challenges and opportunities. Together, the groups developed a Community Health Assessment that highlights the city’s opportunities for improvement and strengths in its diversity.

Discover how the Dashboard can help your city

And there are more ways that the Dashboard can be useful to you.

  • Use the data on insurance coverage rates to advocate to keep insurance accessible and affordable for all.

  • Work with your city’s planning department to prioritize the location of a new park where the park access data shows that people do not have close access to green space.

  • Engage your school district around disparities in chronic absenteeism, ensuring that all children are accessing an education that will put them on the right path for a healthy life.

The Dashboard’s data is driving the discussion of what health really means and what really impacts health and equity. Learn more by reading our new article or visiting the City Health Dashboard.

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