June 14, 2018

Place matters to health—a concept increasingly recognized by community leaders—but few resources exist to measure how well the conditions in neighborhoods promote health. Although there is general understanding that education, income, housing, and other social factors shape health, policymakers who need to set priorities are asking for data on the relative contribution—such as which factors matter the most in determining life expectancy.

The Center on Society and Health is developing indexing tools to help measure the health of communities in ways that are scientifically robust in predicting health outcomes but also useful to policymakers. Our first effort was the development of the Healthy Places Index in California, a projected launched by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California (the Alliance). The Alliance is a coalition of eight California health departments working to create communities that are healthy, vibrant, and sustainable places to live, work, and play.

The Alliance engaged the Center to create a tool capable of measuring the impact of social and environmental factors on the health and well-being of California communities to allow for data-driven policy solutions. We worked alongside the PHA team and steering committee to select and group 25 diverse non-medical economic, social, political and environmental indicators into 9 policy action areas. Using advanced statistical methods, the Center quantified the individual contribution of each policy action area to life expectancy by census tract in California.

The result, shown here, is the California Healthy Places Index (HPI). This powerful tool allows stakeholders and policymakers to diagnose and change community conditions that affect health and well-being at the neighborhood level. It is designed to prioritize investments, resource allocation, health care, and other service delivery across the state and at a granular level. And it presents this information in ways that are useful to diverse audiences, including not only a customizable and user-friendly interactive mapping tool, but also language and materials to communicate the information clearly to specific audiences and guide stakeholders to evidence-based policy actions.

This data rich tool is being used across the state to support health equity and improve opportunities for all to thrive. It is also stimulating similar work in other areas, including our work with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Explore the links on the right side of this page to see how the California HPI can be used in your sector to improve communities. Even more informationincluding an interactive map, proposed policy action areas, and downloadable datais available at the California HPI website: http://phasocal.org/ca-hpi/.


Everyone should have the opportunity to live a healthy life.  Our health is shaped by many community conditions such as economics, education, housing, and social factors. The Healthy Places Index family of projects combines community characteristics into a single indexed HPI Score, produced at the neighborhood level.  HPI scores can be compared across neighborhoods to paint an overall picture of health and well-being in each community. The Healthy Places Index’s developers are the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health (VCU). The Healthy Places Index family of projects is free to use, reproduce, and distribute for noncommercial purposes, including educational, government and community uses, with proper attribution to the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and VCU. Use of these publications does not imply endorsement by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California or VCU. More information about the Healthy Places Index family of projects can be found at http://healthyplacesindex.org/.