The Health Section

Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge: $1.5 million to communities that make strides

More than a million dollars will go to support community health in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge.

Getting people to quit tobacco. Creating new walking trails or making it safer for people to walk city streets. Finding ways to get fresh foods into city “food deserts.” These and many more actions can make communities healthier. Now, they will help communities win prize money in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge.

Cities, counties and federally recognized tribes that show measurable improvements in health indicators and social determinants of health will be awarded $1.5 million in prizes in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. The challenge is offered by the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), in partnership with CEOs for Cities. The application period has closed, but communities can learn more information about the program here.

“This Challenge is designed to help our cities and counties create an environment that fosters productive, happy human beings,” said Mark Bertolini, chairman and CEO of Aetna. “By improving living conditions, access to healthy foods, education and job opportunities, we can build a healthier world.”

Participating cities, counties and tribes will focus on at least one of five domains: Healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors and environmental exposures. Within those domains, participants will be judged based on a variety of metrics already in use within the public health field. Challenge participants will also be evaluated on their ability to form cross-sector partnerships — a key ingredient and a critical foundation for sustainable and lasting change. An expert advisory board has been selected to judge the finalists of the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AARP and the Urban Land Institute.

“The big health threats we face today can’t be solved by one sector alone,” said APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD. “Instead, we need to build partnerships that reflect the many societal factors that impact our health and our opportunity to make healthy choices. Whether it’s affordable housing, community violence or safe drinking water, multi-sector partnerships coupled with community-driven leadership have the potential to transform the way we think about good health and well-being.”

Communities can learn from each other 

Another central goal of the Challenge, which is open to small to mid-sized cities, counties and federally recognized tribes, is to collect successful health improvement strategies that can be tailored and replicated throughout the country. In fact, Challenge participants will be able to share experiences and best practices throughout the process via a learning network.

“Counties play a pivotal role in improving health in our communities,” said NACo President Sallie Clark.  “The Challenge is an opportunity for local governments to build cross-sector partnerships that lead to health innovations and data-driven solutions.  Counties are creating hubs of health and best practices that will help to inform other counties and cities as we work to build a healthier nation.”

Early adopters step up for the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge

Several cities and counties have already signed on to participate in the Challenge as early adopters. Their proposals offer ways to provide access to fruits and vegetables, reduce tobacco use and exposure, combat crime and violence, and increase leadership and civic engagement. Innovator Cities include:

Tulsa City, Oklahoma
San Diego County, California
Kansas City, Missouri
New Haven, Connecticut
Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio
Durham and Cabarrus, North Carolina

Participants will be announced in September 2016. Those chosen will receive a $10,000 community seed grant to help with implementation as well as ongoing technical assistance and online learning opportunities. Participants will be judged on their own progress and will not be competing against each other.

The Aetna Foundation is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna (NYSE: AET). Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed more than $465 million in grants and sponsorships. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered 3.8 million hours since 2003. For more information, visit www.aetnafoundation.org. the public’s understanding of county government and exercise exemplary leadership in public service.  For more information, visit www.naco.org.