Every day, public health works to keep Arizonans healthy and well by promoting good choices like healthy eating, regular physical activity, smoking cessation, vaccinations, and injury prevention through seatbelt and helmet use. We know that these choices lead to good health, but we also know that it’s not always easy—or even possible—to make these choices.
Many factors, including something known as “social determinants of health,” make it more challenging to make healthy choices. For example, it’s challenging to eat healthy foods if you live in an area without a supermarket. If you don’t live in an area with safe sidewalks and parks, it’s difficult to get physical activity. If you don’t have access to reliable transportation or sick or vacation time from work, you may not be able to routinely visit a healthcare provider.
These social determinants of health have led us to focus on traditional prevention messages and to work with state and local partners across Arizona to address more complex issues that contribute to health outcomes. You can see some of the data related to these issues included in our draft state health assessment, which is updated every five years.
This week, Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released a report that highlights how states can utilize laws to improve the health of communities, including laws that address social determinants of health. The TFAH report identifies six goals to improve the health and well-being of communities and a total of 15 example policies to impact these goals. As of December 2018, Arizona had eight of the recommended 15 policy measures in place that TFAH considers as supportive of health. These included things like smoke-free laws, school lunch programs, taxes on tobacco and alcohol, housing loans and grants, and fair hiring protections. Arizona has also improved access to health services through Medicaid expansion, which is noted in the report.
Many other policies that support healthy people and communities that Arizona has already enacted are not reflected in the TFAH report such as recess requirements, loan repayment programs for healthcare providers who work in underserved areas, and local policies like smoke-free parks and adoption of complete streets policies.
In the coming months, you’ll be able to review our state health assessment, which will identify the issues impacting health and inform priorities to address over the next several years. The current Arizona Health Improvement Plan holds a vision of “Healthy People, Healthy Communities” and articulates strategies and actions in thirteen health priority issues and four cross-cutting issues, including the built environment, access to care, school health, and worksite wellness. The Plan is updated annually and reflects a move towards improved health equity across the state and positively impacting the health and wellness of all of our community members.