An individual’s health is directly influenced by his or her surrounding environment. Research has shown that environmental characteristics are linked with many chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. These structures also impact individuals’ mental health, as built environment is associated with depression and anxiety. These negative impacts disproportionately impact lower-income communities, which often have limited access to fresh healthy foods, safe outdoor spaces for exercise and community gathering, and increased prevalence of environmental pollutants.
To combat this problem and promote healthier communities, many large health agencies in the United States pledged to support the Joint Call to Action, a partnership between public health and environmental practitioners. Organizations including the American Public Health Association, the American Institute of Architects, and the National Recreation and Park Association, will work together to reduce the health threats associated with weak environmental structures, and the inequities across communities. To accomplish this mission, the organizations determined the following necessary steps:
- Build Relationships
- The first step toward building smarter, health-promoting environments is to solidify strong partnerships between public health professionals, design leaders, and community organizations. This collaboration will lead to an understanding of community needs, and advanced knowledge to inform interventions.
- Establish Health Goals
- To effectively track progress and ensure goals are met, the groups must consult existing health data, create metrics for resident well-being, and develop methods to measure health outcomes upon program completion.
- Implement Strategies to Improve Health
- Organizations need to advocate for and adopt policies that promote population health. They must also implement plans and developments that will improve opportunities for healthy foods, and safe physical environments for exercise and community gathering.
- Share Expertise
- Disseminating information is key to educate other organizations on successful methods, and maintain a bond with the community by keeping open lines of communication. Organizations should share their efforts and results as much as possible to learn from each other and build off past successes.
The partnering organizations in the Joint Call to Action have a detailed plan that will help them reach their goal of improving health in communities. The steps they outlined can be applied to all health organizations, big and small. At PARCS, we invest in our partnership with the NYC Parks Department to share expertise and maximize success, and we collaborate with community centers and leaders across all five boroughs, to ensure that we understand their values and work toward a shared mission. By working with residents to assess relationships with their surrounding environments, we hope to discover the best methods to improve these structures, and in turn, community health.