5.8.2013 | I’m looking forward to this Friday’s day-long forum on “health in cities” at the University of Chicago. The event, organized by Urban Network, will feature several panels discussing a range of aspects that affect a city’s health, including poverty, education, health care, environmental quality and crime.
Good or poor health is never the result of a single effort or a single factor. Diet, exercise, environment, and our own quirky and complex bodies join forces to make us sick or keep us healthy. Likewise in cities, which too are complex organisms affected by myriad factors. Therefore, improving the health of cities requires a multidisciplinary effort to both diagnose and solve the health problems.
That’s the goal of this forum.
The organizers are bringing together scholars from across disciplines coupled with those hard-headed realists, policymakers, to talk about what they’ve discovered in their various projects approaching health from both a macro and micro perspective.
The panelists include economists, physicians, social workers, public policy analysts, education researchers, and others. The group has studied health in cities from a variety of perspectives including, for example, the effect of neighborhood context on the health of older adults; how market failures contribute to these public health problems; community-based interventions for high-risk youth with psychiatric and substance use disorders, particularly among homeless teens; the health of immigrant populations in cities; education, health, and at-risk youth, and much more.
One example of the collaboration across fields in exploring health in cities is that between University of Chicago economist and physician David Meltzer and sociologist Ron Burt. That team used social network methods to configure teams of health care professionals. The work has sparked a citywide collaboration of all the the city’s academic medical centers, called the Chicago Learning Effectiveness Advancement Research Network (Chicago LEARN).
The panelists will also stress the importance of a sound theory undergirding program design as well as rigorous testing of the effects. For example, the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, through its Becoming a Man Sports Edition randomized trial clinical intervention, started with the theory that for at-risk kids, social-cognitive skills are important to success in school and through that, a deterrent to violent crime. University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig and Harold Pollack put those theories to the test by creating a randomized trial, offering in-school and afterschool interventions to help at-risk boys ages 7-10 develop their social and cognitive skills. They compared the results to a control group that didn’t receive the program. The results prove the theory right. They find lasting impacts on participants’ short and long-term health. Boosting these skills, they project, translates into an estimated 10-23% increase in later graduation rates. The intervention also reduced violent-crime arrests by 44%. The cost-benefit to society range from 3 to 31 times the $1,100 per-participant program cost.