Every community has the opportunity to make healthy decisions easier for people to make. For instance, when communities across the U.S. recognized that obesity rates were increasing at an alarming rate, many began implementing strategies to make healthy eating a physical activity easier to do on a daily basis. That included things like starting farmers markets, creating bike lanes, and placing calorie amounts on menus. Some have even tried to implement taxes on sodas and candy to discourage individuals from buying unhealthy snacks and hope that they will choose something cheaper and healthier (although this has proven to be more controversial). Additionally, federal, state and local governments have employed educational campaigns to make it easier for individuals to understand what nutritional labels mean and how deceptive marketing strategies might make something seem healthier than it really is. All of these efforts combined build what we call a ‘prevention environment.’ Generally speaking, communities that make decisions with prevention in mind tend to have better health outcomes than those that do not.
Similarly, communities can take steps to make it easier to avoid substance use or to use in limited amounts. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) highlights the following ways that communities can build a prevention environment:
Communication and Education through:
- Public education, including educational events and PSA’s in local media outlets.
- Social marketing, such as awareness campaigns to promote healthy behaviors.
- Media advocacy, which includes working with local media to promote public discussion about topics around addiction and prevention.
- Media literacy, which focuses on educating youth and adults on how to be savvy media consumers when it comes to addiction and its prevention.
- Monitoring for compliance with local laws about sale and consumption of substances, such as compliance with social host liability laws.
- Disincentives such as fines or sanctions when laws around sale and consumption are not followed. For instance, fines levied against a convenience store if it sells tobacco products to an underage person.
- Incentives for compliance with local regulations, such as a model business certificate for alcohol retail establishments that pass compliance checks.
- Community policing strategies, such as school resource officers or partnerships between neighborhoods and law enforcement to monitor areas of frequent substance use.
which focuses on building connections across community sectors, particularly among those sectors that are already working to prevent and reduce substance use. One model that has been found to be evidence-based is the Drug Free Communities model, which fosters collaboration across 12 sectors of a community. Natick Public Schools held this grant 2011-2016, and the Natick Health Department was awarded it in Fall 2018 for another 5-years of prevention funding for the Town of Natick.