Last week, I attended the National Network of Public Health Institute’s annual conference in New Orleans. I was aware of the complete irony of scheduling a public health conference in a city built on the pleasures of unhealthy choices (Would you like a beignet with that mint julep?). But I must say that the keynote sessions were particularly illustrative of how far we have come in our thinking – and our doing – about public health.
Of particular interest to me is the thoughtfulness and well-developed thinking that informs the County Health Roadmaps, a new companion tool to the County Health Rankings. These county rankings, published each year by the Population Health Institute out of the University of Wisconsin (and financially supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), have been around for several years. Frequently, upon review, theoretically interested students come to the same conclusion: “So what?” The most affluent counties tend to be the healthiest while the poorest counties tend to be among the unhealthiest. So what? And, more to the point, what can we do?
Well, now there’s an answer. In a seriously-considered “roadmap,” the authors of the County Health Rankings have thought through the “so what question” with impressive results. Stakeholders can now build a roadmap to better health. Beginning with a deeper assessment of the challenges in their communities, the road map progresses from identifying the issues to prioritizing them; choosing effective policies to advance; and acting on what’s important.
Changing health and healthy behaviors is hard, hard work. Most of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing if it weren’t. But the roadmap capability is a solid addition. Check it out and see how to make a difference in your community.