A Healthy Population Requires A Healthy Community

The focus needs to expand beyonds individual health, health executives argue.

What makes a healthy person? According to an article in the current issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preventing Chronic Disease magazine, a healthy community is just as important as an individual’s physical condition.

Thomas Kottke, Bloomington-based HealthPartners’ medical director of well-being, and Nicolaas Pronk, the company’s vice president and chief science officer, co-authored the article with Matt Stiefel, Care Management Institute Senior Director of Population Health for California-based insurer Kaiser Permanente. Together, they argue that widespread well-being, rather than a narrow definition of health that focuses on the individual, should be the ultimate goal of social policies.

Citing research in the U.S. and Canada in particular, the authors note that many factors contribute to health, including education, financial security and public safety among others. For instance, the 2012 Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study found that “flourishing” individuals (those with higher well-being) reported the fewest health limitations. The study also reported that after 10 years, the risk of death for “languishing” individuals was 60% higher than that for individuals who were flourishing.  

The authors argue that “well-being is associated with positive social policies,” citing as examples efficient and effective government, political freedom, sound money and income security programs (pensions, unemployment benefits, and support for the ill and disabled).

In addition, they cite several HealthPartners’ policies and programs intended to address nonclinical determinants of health and to increase community well-being. HealthPartners has adopted what the authors call “a community business model of health” in partnership with schools, foundations, nonprofits, and local and state government agencies. Initiatives include programs in local school districts to promote healthful nutrition and physical activity, as well as campaigns to provide community education on mental health.

A link to the article is available here.