Have you noticed that most New Year’s resolutions are about developing healthier lifestyles? Most people want to eat better, exercise more, and find time for themselves. These are all worthy pursuits. But a few weeks into our new decade, for many, these resolutions will start to fade.
At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we believe that good health is significantly determined by forces outside of ourselves—our health is greatly influenced by the places where we live, learn, work, and play. Having opportunities to get a good education and stable employment is foundational to our well being. Access to affordable housing and healthy foods, and feeling safe in our neighborhoods all create opportunities to help us live our healthiest lives.
This made me wonder: why not adopt community-wide New Year resolutions? Because fostering healthier communities sets individuals up for success!
Here’s a look back at some of what research has taught us over the last few years on what works to create healthier, more equitable communities. Let’s set a collective resolution to do what works so that the next decade and the next generation, can be the healthiest possible.
A good first step can be prioritizing community needs by inviting everyone in the community to map conditions, strengths, and resources. Question who’s often missing from the table, and why, and find ways to make sure they’re welcome and there are no barriers to them in sharing their voice. See how this happened in Atlantic City or the more rural Columbia River Gorge on the Washington-Oregon border. Use RWJF’s Culture of Health framework to understand what success looks like, and how to get there.
Local health data can serve as a rallying point to help residents, community leaders, policymakers, and advocates come together to set common goals for improvement and change. We’re seeing a big uptake in U.S. Census tract data that provides a snapshot of life expectancy gaps from one neighborhood to the next and the City Health Dashboard, which provides data on 37 measures of health and well-being for the 500 largest U.S. cities. And the Opportunity Atlas shows how childhood experiences have a big impact on mobility through life. Data like these can be combined with your own local data to give a more complete view of challenges and opportunities for better health—including where there are gaps in opportunity by race, income, and neighborhood. This collection of Better Data for Better Health resources can help.
Over the past few years, our nation has witnessed catastrophic natural disasters, and it’s certain that more will hit. Some communities rebound quickly, while others struggle. The difference between them? The preparedness and social cohesion of a community before disaster strikes. Here are ways communities can collectively prepare, withstand, and recover from disasters.
When sectors come together—even when they seemingly have nothing to do with one another—powerful things can happen. This is also the message from the U.S. Surgeon General when he visited RWJF. At the community level, here is a practical example of how collaborations foster safer spaces for kids. And when it comes to building healthy communities, it takes the power of partnerships and all people uniting to take on challenges and grasp the opportunities.
Cultivate equity, diversity, and inclusion by lifting the voices and the truths from marginalized community members. Collect culturally sensitive data. Read about what equity means from the very people who are often discriminated against. By building and sharing stories, perspectives, and data that lead to action, people from all walks of life will have a fairer chance at living safe, healthier, productive lives.
Oktawia Wójcik, senior program officer, joined the Foundation in 2014. A distinguished epidemiologist, Wójcik’s work at RWJF focuses on driving demand for healthy places and practices and building a Culture of Health through research that informs both grantmaking and broader health-related policy and practice. Read her full bio.
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