Strong Community Networks Lead to Long-term Health Improvements

A national study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and published by lead author Glen Mays, UK College of Public Health, provides strong evidence that community networks can lead to long-term population health improvements. 

The researchers followed a national cohort of more than 300 communities over 16 years to examine the extent to which community organizations work together in implementing a set of activities designed to improve community health status. The study found that deaths from preventable causes such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, influenza and infant mortality declined significantly among communities that implemented a broad spectrum of population health activities through dense networks of collaborating organizations.  

Preventable deaths were more than 20 percent lower in the communities with the strongest networks supporting population health activities, compared to communities with less comprehensive networks. 

“These results give us the clearest picture yet of the health benefits that accrue to communities when they build broad, multi-sector networks to improve population health,” said Mays, the Scutchfield Endowed Professor of Health Services and Systems. “It’s not simply a matter of implementing widely-recommended activities involving assessment, planning, and improvement – it’s about engaging a full range of partners in these activities.”

This study is part of the new Systems for Action research program created by RWJF as part of its national action framework for building a Culture of Health. Based at the UK College of Public Health, Systems for Action supports research that evaluate mechanisms for aligning medical care, public health, and social services in ways that improve health and wellbeing. The study appeared in a special theme issue of the journal Health Affairs.