When people think about improving health, the first thing that comes to mind is going to the doctor’s office or the gym. For a long time, public health experts correlated community health with medical settings and individual choices. But years of research, grantmaking, and listening to our community partners has given us greater clarity on how and where health happens. Research tells us that our health largely depends on where we live, learn, work, and play.
Place matters when it comes to health, life expectancy, and quality of life. That’s why people in one neighborhood can live an average of 16 years longer than those in another neighborhood just 12 miles away. If you live in a disinvested, low-income community, you are more likely to live sicker—and die younger—than someone who lives in a neighborhood with a grocery store, safe parks, and good schools.
Building healthier communities requires nothing less than a shift in awareness. The California Endowment recognizes the importance of communications in effecting social norms change, which is why we launched our “Health Happens Here” campaign. It supports our 10-year Building Healthy Communities plan to highlight how health happens in schools, in neighborhoods, and with prevention. Both traditional and new media are intimately integrated in our work to raise awareness that staying healthy requires more than doctors and diets—our surroundings affect how long and how well we live.
But many decisions about our neighborhoods and schools are made by school administrators, city planners, and local, county, and state policymakers. It’s up to all of us to hold them accountable and to demand that they develop policies that support health. By raising awareness among decision makers about where health happens, The California Endowment is helping to build a healthier—and stronger—California.
Robert K. Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment. The organization is one of four recipients of the 2013 Wilmer Shields Rich Awards for Excellence in Communications—a partnership of the Council on Foundations and The Communications Network.