Community is where we are

Community is where we are

For science. Community is where we are. It’s our connections with others who share similar interests, attitudes and goals. Over the past few years, those connections have been greatly impacted. Physically distancing from one another and limiting communal gatherings can lead to social isolation, increasing rates of depression, impaired immunity and premature mortality. These outcomes are even worse for and in communities marginalized due to their race, income, sexual orientation and gender identity. The political climate has also weakened the connections between communities. Debates over access to health care and funding strategies have distanced communities from one another. This makes communication and cooperation extremely difficult. There are also other conditions in our communities that impact our health and well-being called social determinants of health. People living just a few blocks apart may have very different life expectancies because of the safety of the neighborhood they live in or the quality of their schools. Transportation barriers and lack of health insurance can limit access to health services. This can increase the risk of harmful health behaviors like skipping medication or postponing care. Having to travel long distances to access nutritious foods is linked to food insecurity. This puts communities at higher risk for chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. There are also negative environmental health conditions like poor air quality that can result in cancer and lung and heart diseases.

For action. Become more engaged or re-engage with your community and make an impact on public health. You can join a community garden, donate healthy and culturally appropriate canned food options to food pantries or volunteer at local food distributions. Join a recreational sports league or fitness group to engage in physical activity and to socially connect with others. Support community-led solutions by asking questions at public forums or joining a community advisory board. Get information on how your state uses public health funding. Advocate for your local elected officials to use funds to address health disparities. Encourage your local government to support healthy community design that includes parks, sidewalks and bike lanes. Tell them to fund programs to prevent unhealthy living conditions. Pursue community-engaged and multi-sector partnerships. Advocate for a health-in-all-policies approach as a strategy to improve community health. Engage your public health peers and elected officials on health topics on social media to gain more understanding about specific threats and to hold people in decisionmaking roles accountable.

For health. People with greater feelings of support, connection and inclusion within their networks may live longer, respond better to stress and have stronger immune systems than those who are isolated from their communities. However, research also shows that cross-sector efforts are needed to redesign the conditions of our social, built and natural environments to promote health equity and improve social determinants of health. The public health workforce should possess skills and knowledge that cut across disciplines in areas like policy, communications and data analytics. Neighborhood programs like community gardens not only improve access to nutritious foods, but they also cultivate social support and emotional well-being. Adding elements such as sidewalks, parks, libraries or bike routes to neighborhoods supports physical activity and decreases the negative health effects of air pollution. Local efforts must improve housing, education, food, transportation and the environment to support equity, resilience and health at the individual and community levels.

In celebration. The White Earth Nation response to the COVID-19 pandemic incorporated cultural heritage and spiritual values while focusing on a vaccination campaign for their most at-risk members. Participation in traditional Greek dance sessions improves physical fitness and well-being of elderly adults. LGBTQ+ recreational sports leagues use physical activity to bring people together and connect with other members of their community. Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. created an online toolkit to help raise awareness and support for the mental health of Black men and their families. Peer-education programs about sexual heath and reproduction specifically for Black and brown teenage girls and adolescents help youth connect and achieve better educational outcomes.

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