National health expenditures are expected to hit $3.35 trillion this year, most of it spent on care for one person at a time: doctors’ visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs. But to really improve the health of Americans, two new studies suggest, we also need to aim for a culture of health in communities as a whole.
In one of two studies out last week in the journal Health Affairs, researchers found that deaths from preventable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, declined significantly over time in communities with tight-knit health networks, such as hospitals and community centers working together to promote exercise or track a flu outbreak. In the second, a team found that cohesive neighborhoods foster good mental health during adolescence, with life-long benefits for children who grow up there.
“Building a culture of health is about how we can get our communities to place greater value on health and well-being,” says Glen Mays at the University of Kentucky, author of the first paper on preventable deaths. “Communities and members of the public absolutely have a clear role in shaping the environment for health.”