When it comes to the health of people in communities, especially in economically distressed places, the Southeast tends to lag behind other regions of the country. For example, Mississippi, in a tie with West Virginia, has the highest obesity rate in the country at 35.1 percent. Alabama ranks first in the number of adults informed they have diabetes at 13.2 percent. In fact, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama are among the top 10 states with the highest death rates for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and infant mortality.
Challenges persist in our region, but promising efforts are emerging to coordinate more comprehensive interventions aimed at the intersection of community development and health. For example, the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement is among a handful of recipients of an Alignment for Health Equity and Development grant from the Public Health Institute, in partnership with the Reinvestment Fund and the Kresge Foundation. This effort will work in targeted communities where poverty and health inequities are concentrated in order make more effective community investments. There are several other entities—including the Florida Institute for Health Innovations, Georgia State University Health Policy Center, the Louisiana Public Health Institute, Georgia Tech Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, and the Health Foundation of South Florida, to name a few—that are building evidence and supporting and deploying initiatives that bring the community development and public health sectors together.
These organizations have embraced an intervention strategy based on the social determinants of health. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as "the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness." These social determinants of health connect community development to health outcomes. For example, the availability of quality affordable housing can reduce asthma incidence among low-income residents by providing a healthy place to live while also giving households the financial wherewithal to make other health-promoting choices such as seeking preventive medical care or purchasing and preparing healthy foods.
In practical terms, bringing together community development and health provides an opportunity for practitioners to identify new partners, draw from each sectors' tools and methods, and measure success in new ways.
In the six years since the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a journal devoted to Health and Community Development, a number of banks across the Federal Reserve System have responded with conferences and publications related to the topic. The resources generated by our colleagues collectively represent a rich source of data and analysis on the connections of health and community development.
- The San Francisco Fed: Leads the Federal Reserve System's work in healthy communities, including hosting the Healthy Communities Initiative within the bank's community development department. The Healthy Communities Initiative was designed to enrich the debate on how cross-sector and place-based approaches to revitalize low-income communities might both revitalize neighborhoods and improve health. The San Francisco Fed leads in terms of thought leadership, partnerships with national funders (including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), professional associations, and more. Its 2009 issue of Community Development Investment Review was dedicated to health and community development, and the bank hosts a comprehensive library of publications on the topic. From 2010 to 2014, the San Francisco Fed has hosted or cohosted dozens of local, regional, and national events focused on connecting community development and health. Finally, in 2014 the San Francisco Fed and the Urban Institute released What Counts: Harnessing Data for America's Communities, a collection of essays on using data to reduce poverty, improve health, expand access to quality education, and build stronger communities.
- The Minneapolis Fed: Hosts the Minnesota Healthy Communities initiative, which is part of the broader partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Federal Reserve Banks to promote collaboration between community development and health practitioners. The bank hosted Minnesota Healthy Communities Conferences in 2012 and 2013 and 2014. A member of the bank's community development team partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to produce a research report on collaboration to build healthier communities.
- The Dallas Fed: Has a resource center within the bank's community development function to disseminate the healthy communities' framework through presentations, resources, white papers, and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) specific materials. Most resources have been produced by third parties, universities, think tanks, and others outside the Federal Reserve System. In 2014, the Dallas Fed's community development staff published Healthy Communities: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations . In Sept 2011, the Dallas Fed and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cohosted the event Healthy Communities: The Intersection of Community Development and Health.
- The Chicago Fed: Hosted a 2013 regional summit in Chicago and 2014 meeting in Milwaukee that explored the converging visions of community and economic development, public health, and the public safety/criminal justice system. A member of the bank's community development team published an article in the Chicago Fed's Profit Wise News and Views, largely summarizing themes from a 2013 regional summit in Chicago.
- The Boston and New York Feds: Each hosted a very similar healthy communities conference (see here and here) in 2011, in partnership with the San Francisco Fed.
Community development practitioners may consider engaging local or state public health departments or check out the National Association of County & City Health Officials to learn more about efforts to advance healthy communities.
By community and economic development assistant vice president Karen Leone de Nie and adviser Will Lambe