Building healthy communities is one element of a transformed healthcare system in the U.S. Among other things, healthy communities help to reduce overall healthcare costs, decrease morbidity, increase the quality of life and the life span of every citizen.
A number of years ago the community that I live in, Omaha, Nebraska, undertook an effort to create a healthier community. This effort spawned several groups including Activate Omaha, Live Well Omaha and Live Well Omaha Kids. These groups in partnership with other community organizations and businesses including the largest healthcare system and a major health insurance company have worked to raise the community’s awareness of the need to live a healthier lifestyle.
As this effort was going on the Douglas County Health Department using data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems (BRFSS) Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Risk Trends (SMART) project ranked Omaha as the 142nd healthiest city out of 182 studied cities. The Health Department and community groups like Activate Omaha and Live Well Omaha Kids used this as a rallying cry.
These groups in concert encourage Omahans individually and collectively to live healthier lives as the basis for building a healthier community. For example, Live Well Omaha Kids developed the 54321 campaign to teach the areas youth what a healthy lifestyle entailed. The program encouraged kids to:
- 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- 4 servings of water a day
- 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day
- 2 or less hours of screen time a day
- 1 or more hours of physical activity a day
This approach by Omaha is only one piece of the puzzle. Certainly providing citizens with the information they need to live healthier lives is important and helps to build a healthier community it fails to address other factors which are also important such as access to healthcare services and the creation of strong public health infrastructure.
Healthier communities are essential if we are to create the healthcare system we all deserve. Healthcare systems, public health departments and other civic organizations can and should be working to create healthier communities. This has been Omaha’s approach. What is your community doing to become healthier?