The Marriage Between Population Health and Community

Written by Brian McGrain, Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer

The “ZIP Code Improvement Business”


“Your zip code […] has an awfully big impact on your health outcomes.”



For a number of years now, those involved in public health across the nation have been spending considerable amount of time studying and acting upon the “social determinants of health.” Defined by health care professionals, these are economic and social conditions that can have an effect on a person’s health. In essence, while many people might think that genetics play the sole role in determining how healthy (or not) a person is, we are now seeing more and more that factors like where you live and what you have access to are equally important contributors. Your zip code, therefore, has an awfully big impact on your health outcomes.

As community economic development professionals, we have been in the “zip code improvement business” for quite some time. We have been all about neighborhood-based strategies to revitalize our communities and help those around us achieve greater economic prosperity.  But we haven’t necessarily thought directly about the public health implications of our work.

Recent Conversations in Cleveland

Recently, the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) held a one-day summit in Cleveland, Ohio, to put CED and health care practitioners in one room to discuss areas of overlap. These was much discussion about what the social determinants of are and how different states and regions are seeking to positively address them through a community development lens.

It is interesting to note, however, that we don’t always speak the same language. For instance, “CDC” means something very different for CED and for health policy practitioners (“Community Development Corporation” versus “Center for Disease Control”). Our methods and metrics differ a great deal as well.

CED and Health Practitioners Coming Together


“Representatives from the Fund will provide insight and practice for individuals hoping to master the marriage of community and population health.”



It is with that in mind that we have invited the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to be a special presenter at the 2016 Destination: Vibrant Communities (DVC) conference on November 10 in Detroit. Representatives from the Fund will provide insight and practice for individuals hoping to master the marriage of community and population health. There will be discussion about shared outcomes, stories about successful collaboration and ultimately practice in translating common goals from one side to the other. This session will provide you tools to improve your grant-writing, program design and partnerships through a healthy communities lens.  The outcome for you will be ways to better access a wider pool of resources to help you affect change in your community. Learn more about this session and others at

We hope you will be able to join us for DVC this year for this session and for a host of other compelling sessions that will give you the prescription for boosting your work. See you in Detroit!