Manhattan, Kan. — The nationwide Cooperative Extension System is taking a long view of health in America’s communities.
Elaine Johannes, a youth development specialist and associate professor in Kansas State University’s Department of Applied Human Sciences, said many of her colleagues from land-grant universities across the United States and several national health experts recently formed a task force to develop a framework for improving health and achieving health equity.
Their report, Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health Equity and Well Being, is now available to view online. The project was supported by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, or ECOP.
“One of the things we discovered is that not everything fits every community,” said Johannes, who noted extension has a long history of improving health and well being in communities across the country. “(Differences in communities) make up the health equity piece of the new national approach to extension’s role in health.”
Johannes said many associate their community’s health solely on available health care agencies, medical providers, doctors, hospitals, clinics and similar services.
“But that comprises only 20% of our overall health,” Johannes said.
“There’s a lot more that makes up our well being. Does the community have safe streets for walking? Does the community have water that we can drink? What’s the overall community air quality? And do we have access to grocery stores, and good jobs to make sure our family has access to food? Those are some of the indicators that make up at least half of our overall health and well being.”
According to Johannes, the task force’s recommendations focus on three themes:
- Health equity, or a condition that exists when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.
- Social determinants of health, or societal factors that influence the health of an individual.
- Coalitions and community health assets, or developing partnerships to expand the reach of existing programs.
While the nation’s extension service has traditionally supported community health with local programs, Johannes said the task force’s work provides a foundation for Kansas State University and other land-grant universities to strategically fill its role in community health.
In Kansas, she added, a “cookie cutter” approach to health likely won’t work. “But those stories that happen in Gove County compared to Crawford County or Riley County may give people an idea that they can try in their own community,” Johannes said.
“That type of customization is one of the roles I have, and that my colleagues (and others) in community health have…to look at the capacities in the community and find the gaps. Then, let’s fill the gaps in order for well-being to occur.”