We know there are lifestyle factors that directly impact our health…such as whether we get regular exercise, eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, use tobacco or abuse alcohol, but, what about environmental factors? Can where we live make a difference in our health and wellbeing? The answer is a resounding yes.
The conditions in communities where we live, learn, work and play have a significant impact on our ability to make health-wise choices. For instance, smoke-free air laws, access to healthy foods, quality, affordable housing, good schools and safe places to play all directly influence our overall health. In fact, economic, social and physical environments in which we live can have an even greater impact on our health than how often we go to the doctor.
Asking the right questions is the key to determining the positive and negative environmental factors of a community or neighborhood.
Access to quality, nutritious food Is there a full-service grocery store or market nearby? How far do you have to drive or walk to shop? Does the market offer fresh produce, meats and seafood? How are the prices?
Access to good schools Are the schools in the district excelling, holding their own or failing? Are the facilities well maintained and safe? What is the teacher to student ratio? Is there an active parent-teacher organization? Does the school offer a balanced curriculum of academics, athletics and the arts? How far from your home is the school your child will attend? Is bus service provided? Is after-school care available and affordable?
Access to safe, affordable housing Is the home or apartment in good condition? Is there an outside play area or yard? Are there community facilities such as parks, youth centers, libraries, churches, temples or mosques nearby? Are sidewalks or walking/biking paths available? Is there a local primary care clinic or doctor’s office nearby? How close is the nearest hospital? What is the crime rate in the area? Is the neighborhood patrolled by law enforcement?
Access to public services How often is trash picked up? Is recycling available? How clean are the streets and public areas? Are roadsides and vacant lots kept clear of over-growth? Is mail home delivered or to a post office box? Are animal control policies enforced?
When we dream of a new home the first things that come to mind are likely to be the number of bedrooms and baths, whether there is a fireplace, or the size of backyard. We all have our “wish list” of amenities. But, while these questions are important, before making a life-changing decision about a new home, we should first make sure that home is located in a community or neighborhood that will support our goals for safe, healthy living.
For more about what makes a healthy community, visit the website of the American Public Health Association at www.apha.org/HealthyCommunities.