How much does the decline of communities explain about America's health problems? A new survey shows how few people feel closely connected with their neighbors.
Suburbanites, as compared to urban and rural dwellers, are most certain of their access to community resources. They also care least about their neighbors. As such, their safe, affordable housing in unpolluted environments, with nearby health centers and plentiful recreation space, are good because they benefit them individually; that their fellow suburbanites benefit as well is almost incidental.
It's not just them. Strong communities made up of neighbors that care for, and about, one another are low on the list of health concerns of most Americans.
In a survey conducted for The Atlantic in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline, a representative sample of 1,000 Americans revealed that our priorities for building healthy communities are inextricable from our reliance on institutions. The results of various questions show that many of us tend to put the responsibility for our community's' health in the hands of doctors and hospitals, whom we expect to be regularly available, in-person. Overall, participants ranked regular access to doctors and dentists (82 percent said it was "very important") second only to clean air and water (87 percent) as community resources that are important to their health.
There's good reason for fixing health care to be a priority in the U.S., but a burgeoning school of thought suggests that access to care can turn out to matter less, in terms of overall health, than we're apt to assume. "There are broader contextual factors in communities that are definitely driving health outcomes more" than access to care, said Jason Purnell, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at Washington University's Brown School. "That understanding seemed to have been missing from the survey results." The World Health Organization insists, "To a large extent, factors such as where we live, the state of our environment, genetics, our income and education level, and our relationships with friends and family all have considerable impacts on health, whereas the more commonly considered factors such as access and use of health care services often have less of an impact."