Understanding the Health Needs of Your Community

March 30, 2016

A key step towards supporting the connection between health and learning in schools is understanding the needs of the communities they serve. If a school is located in a community that has limited access to mental health care providers or healthy food, it is important to consider how school-based interventions can address these needs and the resulting problems. In addition, if a school is located in a community with high levels of violent crime, it is important for schools to understand this need as they determine how best to ensure children feel safe in traveling to school and have the opportunity to be physically active during school.

An important  tool for better understanding these needs is Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) County Health Rankings. Earlier this month, RWJF released their seventh version of their County Health Rankings data, a tool that can help school stakeholders and decision makers better understand the needs of the communities they serve and make decisions that best support the connection between health and learning. The County Health Rankings measure the health of nearly all counties in the nation and rank them within states. The rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.

Some of the key measures included in the County Health Rankings include the following:

  • Health outcomes (quality of life and length of life)
  • Health behaviors (physical inactivity, access to healthy foods, teen births and access to exercise opportunities)
  • Clinical care (access to primary care providers, dentists and mental health providers)
  • Social and economic factors (children in poverty, unemployment and violent crime)
  • Physical environment (drinking water violations, air pollution and housing problems)

In addition, a few new measures have been included in this version of the County Health Rankings including frequent physical or mental distress, insufficient sleep and residential segregation.

This tool can help school stakeholders, including school nurses, principals, teachers, parents and community members, develop targeted interventions that take into account underlying issues that might be impacts students’ ability to learn. School nurses, in particular, can serve as important advocates for the health and wellness of the students they serve and help ensure that school administrators and policymakers understand how schools can be an important place to both address and prevent many of the issues that are brought to light through this data.

We encourage you to access the rankings and data at countyhealthrankings.org and see how your county ranks compared to others in the state. Share this information with your school district and local decision makers to begin a conversation about how to address these needs and what role schools can play in supporting the health and success of your community.