Boston University Hosts Public Health Symposium

On December 1, the Boston University School of Public Health held a symposium titled, "How Does Where You Live Affect Your Health?" The focus of the symposium was to explore the roles of the built environment and housing on one's health, and to evaluate the science behind studies and interventions that can improve the health of vulnerable populations not only within the United States but around the world. The event featured over a dozen experts and professionals within the field, each of whom had the chance to address the audience, presenting stories from the field as well as the findings of their studies.

Amongst those who spoke at the symposium were Ron Sims, the former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Shakira Suglia, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. I highlight these two speakers because their talks focused not only on the links between neighborhoods and public health, but also on the importance of social capital and community networks.

Ron Sims spoke dynamically about growing up in the outskirts of Seattle, in an impoverished area that was close in proximity to wealthy, affluent communities, yet still segregated by zip code. He stressed the idea that no longer should one's zip code be a life determinant as it so often is today. Zip code can almost certainly predict a person's life expectancy, life time earnings, education success rates, etc. However, we should strive as a nation for housing equity, in which each and every individual, despite their geographic location on the map, receives adequate, safe, affordable housing. In order for this to be achieved, Sims noted the need for collaboration and common ground between disciplines as this is no longer just a public health issue.

Shakira Suglia was one of the first speakers at the event and her talk focused on the influence of social factors, for example socioeconomic status, social capital and cohesion, and community networks, on one's physical and mental health. Suglia's studies found that there was a direct correlation between one's neighborhood environment and obesity; higher rates of obesity were found in areas where there was less social capital. Her studies also highlighted the need to think about the social policy implications of interventions within neighborhoods - is it more important to promote social capital from within a neighborhood, or introduce social capital from the outside? 

Overall, the event was an illuminating lens into the complicated world of public health and housing, and how its intersection influences our everyday lives. It is important that we take the time to think about these concepts in order to promote a world in which everyone has access to a healthy living environment.

Click here to watch video clips from the event.