Although many people are living to 100 years old and beyond, research shows wide differences in life expectancy based on where a person lives. We know that location determines access to neighborhood grocery stores, places to socialize with friends and family, affordable housing and fitness activities. The presence or absence of these and other health factors – social determinants of health — influences one’s ability to live well. Negative health issues, such as diabetes, asthma, social isolation and stress, can develop or worsen from living in neighborhoods lacking livable features.
Health care organizations are aware, and the American Hospital Association is working on innovative, place-based solutions related to social determinants to improve community health. AHA’s Hospital Community Cooperative (HCC) is helping hospitals and community organizations work together to improve the living conditions of their most vulnerable populations. In the program’s first year, partnering teams received funding and technical assistance to address affordable housing, provide access to basic health screenings and better connect hospitals and health systems with the people they serve.
AARP also is focused on helping communities create place-based solutions to improve conditions that can positively impact people’s health. AARP’s Livability Index is an online resource to help individuals, local decision makers, and other stakeholders better understand “livability” — that is, how well communities meet the needs of residents throughout their life span. The tool puts important community data in their hands, so they can make informed decisions, take targeted action and create effective solutions to improve the health of everyone in the community.
For local health and wellness partners like the Hospital Community Cooperative teams, the Livability Index offers key insights into neighborhood conditions and can help shape solutions that will make a community more livable and age-friendly.
Livability for all
The United States population is rapidly aging. Meanwhile, a majority of adults age 65 and older want to stay in their homes and communities as they age. Yet neighborhoods weren’t developed with healthy aging in mind, and many communities lack key attributes that keep people at every life stage active, independent and engaged. Effective and innovative actions taken today will better shape communities by preparing them for the future.
The Livability Index evaluates 60 indicators across seven categories — housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement and opportunity — and calculates category scores for any location in the United States. Thus, it’s easy to imagine how the index can provide needed data to local officials wanting to take action to improve livability. The index also can help inform individuals making decisions about where to locate.
The Livability Index categories align closely with the social determinants of health. In fact, it could be considered a health index, as each category includes health-related indicators. For example, the transportation category contains a walkability indicator measure for reaching important destinations as well as creating exercise opportunities through walking and meeting neighbors and friends on the street. The housing category includes an indicator for a neighborhood’s number of “accessible” housing units—that is, units that someone with limited mobility could live in comfortably. Homes can present barriers, especially to someone with limited mobility, so the availability of homes with features for easier navigation expands options for people with diverse needs.
The linking thread of health that runs throughout the Livability Index’s categories exemplifies the interconnection across all social factors that contribute to community livability. This link underscores the need to create effective, holistic solutions to overcome challenges and promote better health for all people.
Data for key insights, innovative solutions
For local health and wellness partners like the HCC teams, the Livability Index offers key insights into neighborhood conditions and can help shape solutions that will make a community more livable and age-friendly. The tool can be used to spark conversations on important aspects of community life, such as civic and social engagement, or dive deeper into a priority issue, such as educational and economic opportunity.
Other features of the Livability Index add context to the data. For example, the index provides demographic information such as age, race, ethnicity and income for each searched location. This helps to provide a clearer picture of how neighborhood conditions, policies and programs affect different populations within the community.
In addition, localities can use the index’s tool to compare living conditions to other communities within their region or across the country. A community may find it faces a challenge similar to a neighboring locality, sparking the possibility of collaboration on the issue.
As communities grapple with individual and public health challenges, using tools and resources like the Livability Index will provide a holistic view of community life and help communities improve health outcomes for all.
Shannon Guzman is senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute and a national adviser for the AHA’s Hospital Community Cooperative.