Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Community Health - can we measure the health of our communities?

Community Health is the top layer of the hierarchy of health.  What is a community?  What is community health?  How can we measure community health?  How healthy are our communities?

The first level of community is the "community of self". Each of us lives in the community of our body, our mind, our spirit with our gods - and our devils.

No person is independent. Most interact with other people and other communities. Even a total hermit lives in a community of plants, animals, sun, moon and stars as well as his own mind, body and spirit.

The household is a fundamental unit of community and a valuable component of community health. A household might have only one person, interacting with their internal communities (mind, body, spirit) and external communities - but most households harbor more than one person, forming another community.  A household might be so large that it contains an extended family community - or even more.

Communities exist in many formal and informal ways.

Individuals, families and households interact with many external communities;  like minded people community associations (sports, leisure, goal oriented, etc.), business communities, worker communities, government communities, religious communities, to local community associations (residential area communities, civic communities, etc), communities of state, province, nation and ultimately the community of our planet - ultimately at least until we start to establish communities on other planets.

Support Wikipedia Often, as I write my blog, my research puts me to Wikipedia - today I decided it's time to make a donation.

Freedom of association and freedom of assembly are fundamental freedoms recognized by many human rights organizations. They are also fundamental components of health freedom.

You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness. Of course you cannot pursue healthiness without the right to freely develop, associate with, join, work in and if we wish leave - our communities. Of course, the saying goes "you can choose your friends, but you are stuck with your family". We also exercise our freedoms to try and change our communities - to improve our healthiness.

The health of our communities is an important factor in the health of each of us.

Can we measure the health of our communities?  I have always believed that if you think you can, or you think you cannot - you are right.  I think we can measure the health of our communities. I believe we should start today.  We have already started.

Are some communities toxic?  What does that mean?  What can we do about toxic communities?  What communities are 'most healthy'?  What does that mean?  How can we encourage communities to move towards health?

I don't believe any community is totally toxic, or totally healthy. Measuring the health of our communities is a useful tool to measure overall health.

There have been some interesting attempts to measure health of communities.

Sam Harris, in his interesting book "The Moral Landscape, how Science can Determine Human Values" suggests that one moral framework is better than another when it "increases the well-being of conscious creatures". An interesting proposition that we could apply directly to the health of communities.  A community is healthier when it "increases the well-being of conscious creatures".  Of course each community's goal is to look after its own members - so there may be conflicts between communities.  But in general, a community's framework might be judged to be healthy - if it increases the well being of its members, and even healthier if it increases the well-being of all conscious creatures. We may find that some communities are happy to increase the well being of their members - to the detriment of non-members.  Or even communities that work to increase the well being of some members while decreasing the well being of other members - Hitler's Germany immediately comes to mind. Communities can have sub-communities that are at odds with the goals of the larger community.

Richard Wilkinson in his TED presentation titled "How economic inequality harms societies" measures ill health of different communities - states and countries and compares the ill health to economic inequality. If we are measuring health of individuals - I might complain that he measures illness, not health, but when measuring health of large communities - a measurement of illness is a somewhat reliable indicator of health.  Richard concludes that, as his title suggests, "economic inequality harms" communities, thus providing some valuable insight into how we might improve the health of our communities.  He leaves the details to us, and our communities.

Each of us live our lives in many communities.  Our health is affected by the health and healthiness of these communities. We can change our health status, by working to make our communities healthier.  Many communities work directly to improve our health.

We might ask if there exist communities that work to decrease healthiness?  I believe any community that attempts to restrict health freedom risks decreasing healthiness.  A community that attempt to eradicate another community, or the members of another community - is clearly working to decrease healthiness - even if they believe they are making their own community 'more healthy'.

Yours in health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: 

Personal Health Freedom