Diversity, health centers, and commuter trains are among the community attributes linked to well-being and quality of life, according to new research.


A new nationwide study of more than 300,000 adults shows that people who live in communities that offer racial diversity, access to preventive health care, and public transportation, among other things, are more likely to report high levels of well-being.


“To improve the well-being of a community, you need to work across multiple sectors and fields, to include the economy and health care and urban planning and transportation…”


Well-being - defined as an individual’s assessment of his or her health and quality of life - is associated with longevity and better health outcomes. Research shows that well-being also varies by region.


To investigate correlations between community attributes and well-being, the researchers examined data on 77 characteristics of counties across the United States related to demographics, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.


They also analyzed findings from the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. The index measures Americans’ perceptions of their daily life experiences, including their sense of purpose, financial security, relationships, and physical health.


Linking the well-being data to specific county characteristics, and using a step-wise process to eliminate redundancy, the researchers identified 12 attributes that were strongly and independently associated with well-being.


“We came up with attributes that explained a large portion of the variation we see in well-being,” says first author Brita Roy, assistant professor of medicine at Yale University. “Several factors were related to income and education, which is expected. But we also found that attributes related to the community environment and the way people commute and variables related to health care were linked to well-being.”


For example, living in a community with a higher percentage of black residents was associated with greater well-being for all. Access to preventive health care, such as mammography, and health centers were linked to well-being. Individuals in communities where they could commute to work by bicycle reported feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment, the researchers note.


Fig 1. Marginal R2 of variables in iWBS final model.


While the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between community attributes and well-being, the correlations were significant, the researchers say. The findings suggest strategies for policymakers and public health experts who seek to enhance health and well-being in their communities, they say, noting that promoting diversity and better education, transportation, and primary care may make a difference.


“The results of this study represent a step forward in our understanding of how we may efficiently and effectively improve well-being through community-based action,” says study coauthor Carley Riley, assistant professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.


“To improve the well-being of a community, you need to work across multiple sectors and fields, to include the economy and health care and urban planning and transportation,” says Roy, who points to examples of communities in Richmond, California and Chittenden County, Vermont that have taken this approach to health. “Working across different groups, in coalitions, has the greatest potential to improve health and quality of life.”


Ziba Kashef, Senior Writer, Editor and Communications Consultant, Yale University Office of Public Affairs and Communications