Community and Personal Values
Americans largely associate good health with good personal habits and decisions. This means that culturally, Americans expect each person to take responsibility for his or her health-related habits and actions. Daily exercise, dietary choices, and other behaviors are not heavily regulated by public policy or community values. Each person’s own values determine his or her health outcomes.
Of course, we cannot entirely disregard community health values. After all, they do shape public health policy. Community values also affect the community’s investment in resources and opportunities that impact health, from regulating pollution levels to ensuring the availability of fresh produce. Community-based health policies help bridge the gap between microlevel personal choices and macrolevel governmental thinking. Most public policy decisions grow, not from massive governmental thinking, but from grassroots efforts, like the previously discussed smoking ban(s). These grassroots efforts are evidence of the power of individuals to affect public policy.
The Louisville, Kentucky, Farm to Table program offers a good example. Two movements were simultaneously growing in the Louisville community. One movement, led by local farmers and entrepreneurs, focused on expanding access to locally farmed foods within the community; the other movement, led by parents and school cafeteria employees, focused on improving the nutrition of school lunches. When these two groups combined efforts, the Farm to Table program was altered, and creating avenues to getting locally farmed foods into school cafeterias became an important goal throughout the community. As the community at large increased program participation, the local city government became involved with programs and grants to increase the scope of the Farm to Table program.
Access to Resources
A photograph of a woman sitting and a man standing near the end of a yacht. Each are dressed in white and they look at each other as their yacht sails on the sea.
Courtesy of 123RF Limited/123RF
Opportunities, rewards, and personal characteristics can be attributed to an individual’s social status.
From a macro perspective, we see that the distribution of resources within a community has a direct impact on health risk. Resource distribution often correlates with social status, social capital, and human capital. Though American society tries to equalize the distribution of resources through social welfare programs, it is no secret that individuals gain or lose access to opportunities and resources depending on their social status, social ties, and ability to invest in their own potential.
An individual’s place in society, called social status, is attributable to personal characteristics, opportunities, and rewards. Personal characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, education level, and income result in social rewards like social power, or a lack thereof. Age affects a person’s wellness (e.g., elderly people are usually more susceptible to chronic illness than young adults) as well as a person’s need to depend on others for his or her well-being (e.g., children depend on adults for medical care).
Gender is also an important factor in health and level of health risk. Women are more susceptible to certain cancers, for example, but are more likely to seek medical care. Men are more susceptible to work-related health risks, as they traditionally hold more physically demanding jobs. The emotional differences between men and woman also affect vulnerability. Statistically, women are more likely to suffer the ill consequences of eating disorders, whereas it can be said that men are socially trained to eat more red meat and maintain a more robust physique, decisions which come with their own sets of health risks.
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