Did you know that there were 58,950 community health workers in the US in 2019? Of these professionals, most were in the Individual and Family Services industry. Many others worked in local governments, outpatient care centers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices.
While 58,950 workers seem like a lot, it’s not if you factor in the 2019 US population of almost 329.065 million. This implies a ratio of one worker per 5,582 individuals. That low ratio is also one of the reasons for the health gaps in many US communities.
What does community health mean, though, and how important is it? Why should everyone in the nation take a stand for the health of their communities?
We’ll answer all these questions in this comprehensive guide, so be sure to read on!
What Is Community Health?
Community health is the collective health and well-being of a defined group of people. It refers to the health-related actions and practices of those living in a community. It also pertains to the living conditions of those who live in that geographical area.
Ethnicities, socioeconomics conditions, values, and norms all influence community health. Local regulations that aim to protect health and improve safety also play a massive role. As “shared” characteristics of a community, they affect each member in one way or another.
Why Is Community Health Important?
Community health impacts each member’s health, happiness, longevity, safety, security, and even employment. It’s in this way that a healthy community can lower or even prevent the risks of diseases. It also aims to cut health disparities that arise due to social status, race, and ethnicity.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at how vital community health is for everyone.
Educating Members About the Benefits of Healthy Living
An estimated 133 million people in the US have at least one chronic health condition. They account for eight in 10 hospitalizations and 91% of filled prescriptions. Three in four doctor’s visits are also from people with such health conditions.
Community health efforts focus on reducing and preventing such conditions. One way it can do so is by educating its members about how these problems occur in the first place. It spreads awareness about lifestyle choices that can keep such illnesses at bay.
These educational programs are often made available through community outreach events.
Making Health Services Accessible and Affordable
Did you know that you can go to a community health center to get a flu shot without spending a dime? Or that you can also take a vision test or even a breast cancer screening for free? What’s more, these community health events provide free health training.
The goal of these events is to make it easier for underserved populations to access quality care. In doing so, more community members can achieve better health. The more healthy members, the more inclined others will be to become healthier, too.
Keeping Community-Acquired Illnesses At Bay
From 2018 to 2019, an estimated 35.5 million people in the US got sick with influenza. Of these, 16.5 million went to the doctor. Some 490,600 hospitalizations also occurred due to flu alone.
All that makes flu the most common community-acquired illness in the US. However, bacterial pneumonia, Legionnaire’s disease, HIV, and Lyme disease are also common. These infectious diseases spread more quickly in communities with certain characteristics.
It’s also the same reason that community health and COVID-19 share a close bond. For example, counties with a lower median household income had at least 1.6 times more fatalities. There were also more deaths in rural counties and among the Blacks and Hispanics.
All these prompted a huge increase in community health efforts. Health educators rallied hard to keep the masses informed.
Moreover, many areas had shelter-in-place rules stricter than others. Preliminary studies suggest that these helped flatten the curve.
Enhancing Safety and Security
The more crime and safety concerns in a community, the less healthy its members can be. Unsafe living conditions, such as being near a waste facility, can give rise to health woes. Another example is how violent crimes land victims in hospitals for two or more days.
Prevalence of substance abuse can also be quick to spread within a community. For starters, this may imply a wide availability of illegal substances. This can then give rise to more people having access to such drugs.
All these community health problems can impact mental health, too. For example, members of a community with a high crime rate may always be on edge. Over time, this can lead to anxiety and depression disorders.
Community health professionals help combat this with intervention plans. They work with authorities to address safety and security concerns. They also offer counseling programs to patients and victims.
Improving Access to the Necessities of a Healthy Lifestyle
Healthy communities make affordable, nutritious food, safe housing, and places to exercise accessible. After all, people can’t live a healthy lifestyle if they don’t have access to such things. At the very least, they may find it hard to take steps to become healthier.
Either way, all that can lead to them having poor health. This can then affect their happiness and quality of life.
For example, unhealthy dietary habits are more common in low-income areas. These places have fewer grocery stores where fresh, healthy food options are available. What’s more accessible in these communities are cheap yet low-quality food options.
This is why community health also focuses on making such necessities more accessible. One way they do this is by participating in healthier food retail (HFR) initiatives. This can include promoting the consumption of fresh produce and healthy food items.
Another example is setting up farmers’ markets, even if only during the weekends. At the very least, these communities source more fresh produce straight from farmers.
Healthy Communities Help People Live Happier, Longer Lives
As you can see, community health affects the well-being of people at an individual level. That’s why healthy communities often have healthier, happier residents. Their members also tend to live not only longer but also in a more satisfying way.
All that should be enough reason for you to take a stand for improving your community’s health.
Ready for more health, fitness, and lifestyle guides like this? Don’t be shy then! Feel free to check out our other informative blog posts and resources!