According to research by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), volunteering can positively influence both physical and mental health, as it can help to build confidence, provide a sense of purpose, prevent depression, and decrease mortality.
“People’s engagement in society and their associations and networks, as well as the characteristics of their communities profoundly affect their quality of life. The attributes commonly discussed under the rubric “social capital” — political participation; engagement in community organizations; connecting with friends, family, and neighbors; and attitudes toward and relationships with neighbors, government, and groups unlike one’s own—are often associated with positive outcomes in many areas of life. These include physical health, altruism, compliance with the law, education, employment, and child welfare.” – The Committee on National Statistics Panel on Measuring Social and Civic Engagement and Social Cohesion in Surveys.
Findings in Action
Finding: Kansas groups that are the least politically engaged also experience the poorest health outcomes and struggle to access health care. Examples include:
The percentage of African Americans and Latinos in Kansas who reported lower levels of overall health and were also less likely to vote in local elections. (African Americans reported voting in local elections at a rate of 46.3% and Latinos at a rate of 26.8%, compared to non-Hispanic whites at 61.6%)
Sociodemographic factors, such as education, income, race, and ethnicity are highly related to civic engagement. The low level of political involvement for certain population groups suggests important perspectives are underrepresented in the democratic process in Kansas.
Action: The Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) collaborated on the first Kansas Civic Health Index in 2016 after establishing a new focus on civic health. Findings of the Kansas CHI revealed similar disparities in public health outcomes as civic engagement across the state. To address the disparities, KHF is pursuing strategies to increase civic engagement in those communities. This action begins by awarding mini-grants to five organizations in Kansas who will focus on increasing voter participation in upcoming elections in parts of the state with high rates of poverty, poor health outcomes and high rates of uninsured residents.
“In recent years we’ve been paying close attention to the widening gaps in health outcomes across different populations in Kansas, as we believe these disparities greatly impact the overall health of our state. This report, and our partnership with NCoC, allowed us to investigate any common links between disparities in health outcomes and civic engagement.” -Steve Coen, President of the Kansas Health Foundation