Your personal choices or your home aren’t the only factors that influence your health—so does the community or neighborhood in which you live. Your external environment can weigh heavily on your physical, mental, and social well-being, affecting your likelihood for developing cancer, obesity, asthma, and a host of other health conditions.
There are numerous components that contribute to the definition of a “healthy community.” Not only do environmental aspects play a role, but elements like crime and access to broadband or sidewalks also shape a neighborhood's health.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of websites that provide you with information on various community health factors. This collection is loosely based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2030 neighborhood and built environment objectives, though there are other similar lists in existence.
Community Health Rankings
Water Quality - The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) has a real-time water quality index that measures the safety of water nationwide on 9 different indicators. While the data is visually helpful, it lacks descriptions for each of the factors to better understand how each one contributes to overall water quality. Check out the USGS water quality topics to get more informed about the different measures of water quality so you can more easily interpret the results of the index.
Lead - Another factor related to water quality that isn’t measured on the USGS water quality site is lead exposure through water. As previously mentioned, lead toxicity can lead to high blood pressure and other health issues in adults and can cause developmental and behavioral problems in children. Explore this interactive map to determine the risk of lead exposure in your area.
Air Pollution - Vehicle fuel emissions, manufacturing emissions, hazardous substances from natural disasters (e.g., volcanoes, wildfires, etc.), and other air pollutants can have harmful effects on our respiratory system as well as other parts of our bodies. To better monitor air quality in your community, this useful map provides real-time air quality measures not only in the U.S. but also worldwide.
Superfund Sites - Over the years, companies have dumped hazardous waste at sites around the U.S., affecting the health of thousands of communities. In 1980, the U.S. Congress created Superfund, which allows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force companies to clean up these sites or pay the EPA to do it. The hazardous materials at contaminated sites can be toxic to humans and wildlife, leading to an increased risk of cancers and other diseases. To determine if you live near a currently or formerly contaminated site, check out the EPA’s Superfund search engine.
Social Factors and Access
Crime - Crime and neighborhood violence can affect your mental and social health, which in turn influence your physical health. To track crime in your area and compare it to other areas, use AreaVibes’ crime comparison site.
Broadband Access - The internet is increasingly important for people to learn about health issues, access providers and health records, and participate in telemedicine. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created a series of maps plotting broadband gaps in the U.S. and how they relate to several health issues.
Public Transportation and Walkability - Having access to public transportation and sidewalks make commuting safer since you don't have to walk in the street and also creates a safer environment to exercise in. The EPA has designed a smart location calculator that shows you the level of walkability in your area. Also, turn on the “Blockgroup Scores” function, which allows you to see how other neighborhoods compare to yours.
Finally, if you’re interested in how more traditional health factors—such as quality of life, health behaviors, clinical care, and other indicators—rank in your neighborhood, explore the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmap.
Given all of this data, there’s no one location that will be the perfect healthy community. Though you’re more than welcome to try and find if it actually exists!
Instead, use this information to educate yourself about any health issues in your community and to monitor any changes that occur. If there are particular problems that concern you, contact your local and state health departments and politicians to inquire how these challenges are being addressed. If they aren’t being addressed, advocate for action to be taken to improve the health of your neighborhood.
And if you’re looking to move because of this data or for any other reason, use it to familiarize yourself with community health issues in other areas so you can find the best possible neighborhood for your health.