From Our Blog

Community Health Resolutions for a New Decade

Five things your community can do to ensure healthier, more equitable 2020s for all.

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 markedly 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 communitywide New Year resolutions? Because fostering healthier communities sets individuals up for success!

 

1. Let a shared vision guide the way forward
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.


 2. Use big data locally
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 resources can help.

 

3. Practice resiliency
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.

 

4. Foster radical collaboration
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.

 

5. Lift up marginalized communities
Cultivate equity, diversity, and inclusion by lifting the voices and the truths from marginalized community members. Collect culturally sensitive data. Listen to 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, healthy, productive lives.

 

Has your community used these tactics? Please share your stories with us. We also encourage you to keep an eye on Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s funding opportunities to learn how you can contribute to a growing evidence base on how communities can thrive.

This post originally appeared on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.

About the Author

Oktawia Wojcik

 

Oktawia Wojcik is a 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.