Our health is affected by more than what happens in the doctor’s office. The factors that can make or break our health include the many societal conditions we face on a daily basis—determinants such as access to fresh foods, neighborhood walkability, and public safety. When our communities are built and governed with health in mind, we all inherit an opportunity to live longer, healthier lives. For us, healthy communities are economically competitive, inclusive, and equitable.
Fortunately, most Americans want a healthier future, too: According to a recent survey fielded by theAetna Foundation, 94 percent of Americans say that they are willing to take action to make their communities healthier.
The survey results show that Americans believe they have an average of five healthy days per week, and more than 77 percent of respondents describe their health as good. This is encouraging news. However, global health data find that when we compare ourselves with our peers in other high-income nations, America comes up short. Despite spending more on health care than any other country in the world does, Americans live shorter, less healthy lives than our counterparts in other rich nations. We can and must do better.
But, first, we need to elevate a national dialogue about what it means to be healthy—not just to be free of disease. For example, according to the World Health Organization, health is much more than the absence of disease; health is also the presence of complete mental, physical, and social well-being. Transforming the way we think about and perceive good health is no easy task, but it’s a critical ingredient for creating healthier communities and, eventually, a healthier nation.
We all have a role to play in improving health and wellness in our communities, and we know no single entity can make sufficient changes alone. And as our colleagues on the frontlines of medicine and public health know, those working outside of both sectors can be valuable partners in addressing the social determinants that shape our health and well-being.
If we can break down silos and galvanize the brightest minds across all sectors that influence our health, we can make an enormous difference in health outcomes across the country. Leaders in education, transportation, housing, and private business can combine their expertise to help ignite the change we need to make a sustainable impact in the communities facing the greatest disparities in the ability to live long, healthy lives.
That’s why the Aetna Foundation, American Public Health Association, and National Association of Counties, in partnership with CEOs for Cities, have launched the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. By working with small to mid-size cities, counties, and federally recognized tribes across the country, the Challenge will help build measurable improvements over time on key wellness metrics such as healthy behaviors; community safety; social and economic factors like access to high-quality jobs; environmental exposures like pollution; and the built environment, in which people can live, work, and play. As of today, several “Innovator Cities” have already signed on from communities across the country to be a part of the Challenge, with projects ranging from curbing secondhand smoke, to reducing violence, to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
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