By Dr. Kathy Black, University of South Florida

Public health is broadly and uniquely focused on population health and all that it entails. Because a population’s health and well-being are greatly influenced by having safe, healthy, “livable” places to reside, work and stay active and engaged, a major focus of public health is to support and create livable communities.

State and local public health departments are vested in various livable community initiatives. Operating at the governmental, academic, and non-profit levels, public health professionals and their expansive partnerships and coalitions play important roles in creating and implementing the policies, programs, research, surveillance, and tracking that are integral to the creation, momentum, and sustainability of livable communities nationwide.

Similarly, chronic disease and prevention programs – such as those for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and obesity – have a natural alignment with livable community policies and environmental changes, especially those that enable healthy living to be an easy and convenient choice for community residents.

The following recommendations allow public health to support livable communities based on the AFPHS 6Cs Framework.

Connecting and convening multi-sector stakeholders to address the health and social needs of older adults through collective impact approaches focused on the social determinants of health. Addressing the range of needs to support healthy aging in the community involves a vast yet fragmented system of providers – public health practice adds a preventive and community-wide focus on improvements that impact entire populations.

Coordinating existing supports and services to help older adults, families, and caregivers navigate and access services and supports, avoid duplication, and promote an integrated system of care. Navigating the continuum of community-based supports to age in community can be complex and inefficient – public health practice assures programmatic inclusion by addressing barriers to effective community offerings as well as promoting preventive health services for all persons.

Collecting, analyzing and translating relevant and robust data on older adults to identify the needs and assets of a community and inform the development of interventions through community-wide assessment. Synthesizing information across a variety of sources is necessary to understand the status and opportunities to improve healthy aging in a community – public health practice assesses and monitors health risk factors across the entire community, particularly targeting efforts for at-risk and older populations.

Communicating important public health information to promote and support older adult health and well-being, including conducting and disseminating research findings, and emerging and best practices to support healthy aging. Disseminating empirically-informed learnings can enhance healthy aging across the community – public health practice promotes healthy behaviors among individuals of all ages as well as informs the establishment of safe and healthy living environments and services. 

Complementing existing health promotion programs to ensure they are adequately meeting the needs of older adults. Aligning community health within the broader healthcare system can more effectively address healthy aging across the life course –  the scope of public health addresses diseases from acute to chronic, prevention from primary to tertiary, outreach from broad-based to targeted, environmental conditions from safe to hazardous, and emergency responses from rare to catastrophic events and specifically addresses the needs of older adults as well.

Creating and leading policy, systems, and environmental changes to improve older adult health and well-being. Impacting health aging across the life course requires strategizing efforts regarding the determinants of health and underlying root causes of health inequities – public health practice assures an ecological lens, attending to community power structures and levers for change across the community.

This blog was partially excerpted from AARP’s Livable Communities.

July 2022 post