The Chicago Regional Healthy Communities Summit Explores the Converging Visions of Public Health and Community Development

By Susan Longworth and Jason Keller
Reposted with permission from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

A large body of research and evidence demonstrates inextricable linkages between economic success and physical and mental wellbeing in communities. People who live in economically challenged areas endure more stress and demonstrate higher levels of mental illness, are more prone to serious and earlier onset of disease, and live shorter lives, irrespective of genetic predispositions.

In fact, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report shows that:

  • In Washington D.C. life expectancy can vary by as much as seven years, depending on where one lives; in New Orleans the widest disparity is 25 years;1
  • Children in poor households are more than four times as likely to be in “less than very good health”;2
  • Adults who have not finished high school are more than twice as likely as college graduates to have diabetes.3

With these challenges in mind, the Chicago Fed’s Community Development and Policy Studies (CDPS) department hosted, on June 12 and 13, with the Illinois Public Health Institute and other partners the Chicago Regional Healthy Communities Summit. This two-day event considered more deeply the common interests among community development and health-focused organizations in the region.

Although some leading edge community development organizations have long incorporated considerations around health and wellbeing into their strategies, the long-term goal is to make health-focused considerations a common aspect of community asset development and strategy. While access to health care is obviously important, “health” is a result of many elements including (but certainly not limited to) access to nutritious food, smoking/substance abuse awareness/abatement, facility/neighborhood designs that encourage physical activity; as well as neighborhoods that are free of threats of violence. These areas represent just a few where public health and community development intersect.

The summit featured panelists representing local organizations, as well as nationally recognized institutions, which approached the public health-community development convergence from a variety of aspects and levels.

After setting the stage with an understanding of the social determinants of health which demonstrated the interconnectedness between “where you live and how long you live,” panels explored the issue from a regional perspective, a policy perspective, from the viewpoint of banks and philanthropies, hospitals and community development organizations, and considering aspects of both the Affordable Care Act and the Community Reinvestment Act.

The summit culminated in an opportunity for participants, informed by concepts generated throughout the summit, to share their own ideas for cross-industry collaboration. Small groups were formed to further explore the convergence of community development and public health from the perspectives of funding, policy, and practice. Ideas captured during this session will provide a starting point to facilitate a greater understanding between the sectors. Building on this information, findings gathered from community meetings to be organized by the Illinois Public Health Institute, and additional outreach and research, CDPS intends to publish policy recommendations and action steps incorporating input from both fields. While the relationship between a community and the health and well-being of residents is well-established, opportunities to leverage existing resources, explore and adapt leading practices and create opportunities for interdisciplinary discussions have been few. Therefore, we would like to hear your thoughts on the matter: How would you define a healthy community? What aspects of the community should be focused on? What do you identify as areas of action? What policy initiatives would have the greatest effect? What challenges need be overcome to reach this goal?

The Chicago regional summit was the 12th Healthy Communities Summit hosted by Federal Reserve Banks across the country under the auspices of a partnership between the Federal Reserve System and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Learn more about the Healthy Communities Initiative

2. Ibid (page 20).

3. Ibid (page 22).

The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Federal Reserve System.

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