Health programs aim to improve the health of individuals and communities through public policy changes or community interventions. Programs may also promote healthy behaviors through education, outreach, and communication, and they might focus on particular risk factors such as tobacco or obesity. Efforts to achieve public health goals require leadership, commitment, and partnerships with many different groups. These groups include local government, schools, business, law enforcement, transportation, agriculture, and others. These groups often have different interests and agendas, but when working together can achieve significant improvements in population health.
Many counties across the country have invested significant resources in developing community-based programs to reduce specific health outcomes such as high blood pressure or diabetes. However, little is known about the effectiveness of these efforts to change population health outcomes. To gain insight, this study used an approach that combines a pre-post design with county-level comparisons to estimate the relationship between community-based health improvement program implementation and county-level health outcomes. This type of quasi-experimental study can be more valid than traditional comparison group studies that rely on survey data without a control county.
The study results showed that the community-based health improvement programs had a statistically significant impact on the average level of county-level health status, although the effect was modest in size. Several important limitations were identified that could have reduced the strength of the findings. In particular, it is possible that differences in economic and demographic characteristics between the comparison and implementation counties could have biased our estimates of the association between community-based health improvement programs and health outcomes.
Moreover, it is possible that the effect of community-based programs on health outcomes varies by target group. For example, in one program, a large number of adult participants had no children, and it was difficult to reach them with information about the importance of getting their children immunized. This is why it is so important for programs to be targeted to those most likely to benefit from them.
Providing accessible, understandable, and culturally appropriate information is essential to the success of any health program. This information must be made available through a variety of channels, including traditional publications and medical association guidance and through newer communication methods such as text messages and electronic outreach. Furthermore, a concerted effort must be made to present this information in a manner that is relevant and timely to the target audience. This is critical to ensuring that information about a health-related initiative will be incorporated into clinical practice and into patients’ lifestyles. Ideally, this information will also be integrated into treatment plans so that clinicians can track the benefits of these initiatives. However, our interviews with clinicians indicated that this is not always the case.