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Connecting Safety to Chronic Disease

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Increasing safety strengthens chronic disease prevention approaches

Healthy eating and active living has become a national priority, but when people do not feel safe in their communities, they are less likely to use local parks, access public transportation, walk to the grocery store, or let their children play outside. Communities perceived as being unsafe are less likely to benefit from investments such as healthy food retail and recreation centers. Across the country, healthy food and activity advocates have identified violence and the fear of violence as major roadblocks to the success of chronic disease prevention strategies. Its link to healthy eating and activity is disproportionately prominent in communities of color and low-income populations, which contributes to the widening gap in health and safety outcomes. Therefore, preventing violence is critical to reducing inequities in health and safety.

Community leaders are calling for a better understanding of the impact that violence has on healthy eating and activity, as well as for recommendations to address the intersection. Through research as well as the coordination of an innovative pilot effort, Prevention Institute is highlighting approaches that support safe, healthy, and thriving communities for all.

Prevention Institute's pivotal paper on violence and healthy eating and activity, Addressing the Intersection: Preventing Violence and Promoting Healthy Eating and Active Living, provides an explanation of the intersection between violence and healthy eating and activity, highlighting 5 key ways that these issues intersect. Preventing violence in concert with promoting healthy eating and activity is no easy task and will require a better understanding of a community-wide approach for preventing violence and a strategic and coordinated collaboration among diverse partners.

Key opportunities to integrate a violence prevention perspective into healthy eating and active living strategies include:

  • Creating Safe Spaces enables residents to maximize use of community resources. Factors such as the availability of safe, open space for play and the "walkability" of neighborhoods influence the choices residents make in their daily lives. Example strategies include joint use agreements and Safe Routes to School.
  • Promoting Community Development and Employment is key to remedying underlying inequities that contribute to violence. These efforts should ensure that all members of a community have equitable access to opportunities and resources-including quality education, living-wage jobs, and environments free of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression and bias. Example strategies include establishing incentives to attract food retail development in underserved communities and providing job skills development in the healthy food sector.
  • Fostering Social Cohesion encourages feelings of inclusion, social order, ownership, and community participation. Examples strategies include creating community gardens and walking groups, and institutionalizing youth programs, which can cultivate social cohesion.

To learn more about the links between violence and healthy eating and activity, read Addressing the Intersection.

To see more community examples, visit our Communities Taking Action tool, and read more about our community pilot projects.