Summit on Healthy Living: Building Healthier Communities

Dec 11, 2012, 2:18 PM

Today, GOVERNING magazine is holding its second Summit on Healthy Living, in Atlanta, Ga. The Summit is a gathering of leaders who will discuss policy and outcome-based programs that can help create healthier, more prosperous communities.

>> Read more on what works to create healthy communities.

One of the critical messages shared today is that building a healthy community takes a village.

When we think about how we achieve health, it’s not just what happens in the four walls of the clinic,” said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America’s Health and Member of the U.S. Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health. “Health is inextricably tied to housing, education, community development, poverty rates, employment and the environment. We don’t know which one is truly the most important, but we do know they all interact together.”

The solution? “Silo busting.”

Levi asked the crowd, when someone shows up to a clinic with diabetes, what is the doctor going to prescribe? Eat better and be more active. “That prescription is not going to be filled in a pharmacy.” Having a safe park to walk in, a place to get healthy food, and a job to be able to afford both healthy foods and medicine—“that kind of intervention is more effective and less expensive than a medical intervention.”

“We have to do that not just for the health of our country, but to be a more competitive country,” said Levi.

The conversation quickly turned to sharing examples of the great work that’s happening in communities across the country to create places where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Levi shared the story of Akron, Ohio, which created an Accountable Care Community founded upon the question of “how can we make our community more economically viable?” The coalition realized that in order to make an economic difference, they had to do something about health. They brought together the health department, chamber of commerce, labor union, transportation, education and others from across sectors—“everyone who can contribute to solutions.” They worked with the transit agency to extend the bus line so people could get around more easily, which meant they had better access to healthy foods and environments. The collaboration resulted in shared savings for all involved.

Lenny Eliason, County Commissioner of Athens, Ohio and First Vice-President of the National Association of Counties, shared the successes of Live Healthy Appalachia. The program includes classroom education, lifestyle change support, work with restaurants to offer healthier menus, outreach from community ambassadors and support for healthy gardens. “We finally have the front page of papers talking about this,” said Eliason.

“We’ve been investing in wellness.” And it has paid off. Twenty-seven counties saved money in health care costs from public employees.

>> Follow continuing coverage of the Summit.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.