February 2012

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine “found that families who moved to lower-poverty neighborhoods had lower levels of obesity and diabetes than those who stayed behind. What’s more, the improvements in health were as significant as those that typically result from targeted diet and exercise interventions or the use of medications to treat diabetes,” reported TIME Healthland.

“Most of the families…were followed for an average of 12 years. (Those who moved) were 19% less likely to have a BMI of 40 or higher, the cutoff for morbid obesity, and 22% less likely to have glucose levels typical of diabetes, compared with those who stayed in public housing.”

The moves were made possible by a 1990 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program called Moving to Opportunity. The study does not provide cost-benefit analysis on the associated health improvements; however, as author Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago notes, “The results suggest that over the long term, investments in improving neighborhood environments might be an important complement to medical care when it comes to preventing obesity and diabetes.”

Health Impact Bond is one way to support this investment.

What’s leading to worse health in America? According to a physician survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in December:

  • Four in five physicians surveyed (85%) say unmet social needs are directly leading to worse health for all Americans.
  • Four in five physicians surveyed (85%) say patients’ social needs are as important to address as their medical conditions. This is especially true for physicians (over 9 in 10, or 95%) serving patients in low-income, urban communities.
  • Three in four physicians surveyed (76%) wish the health care system would cover the costs associated with connecting patients to services that meet their social needs if a physician deems it important for their overall health.
  • Only one in five of physicians surveyed (20%) feel confident or very confident in their ability to address their patients’ unmet social needs.
  • Physicians surveyed reported that if they had the power to write prescriptions to address social needs, these would represent one out of every seven prescriptions they write — or an average of 26 additional prescriptions per week.

The Rx for a better health system goes beyond the clinic and into the community — the people, places, choices and conditions that account for more than half of what makes us healthy or sick. We’re working with a few health plans, employers and providers who see this as the path forward.