Research shows that factors far beyond the confines of the health system have a huge effect on a person’s health. Study after study links aspects such as education, income, and housing to health outcomes. Indeed, in the United States, your ZIP code is a greater predictor of your life expectancy than your genetic code.

The Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report set out to evaluate the health of nearly 3,000 communities using 80 measurements as a part of the Healthiest Communities Rankings. The project evaluated counties across 10 categories: community vitality, equity, economy, education, environment, food and nutrition, population health, housing, infrastructure and public safety. The rankings explore how these counties can achieve such goals as minimizing chronic disease, keeping people out of the hospital, lowering costs and providing access to health care.

Now that the rankings are out, AcademyHealth is partnering with the Aetna Foundation to put the rankings data into action. By providing full access to the data, this data challenge aims to encourage innovation while improving outcomes. Specifically, it hopes to recognize partnerships among local public agencies, foundations, entrepreneurs, and others that design and implement community level interventions.

Garth Graham, M.D., president of the Aetna Foundation, announced the challenge today to a diverse group of data analysts, population health experts, and community leaders gathered at Health Datapalooza.

“As a next step, the Data Challenge is an opportunity to turn the data into plans that will allow local groups to target the parts of their community that need the most help,” he said, “and will help communities develop their own unique ‘healthy community agenda.” 

Initial plans call for a series of mini-challenges addressing specific categories of interest such as food availability/nutrition, population health, or public safety. A separate “Primary Challenge” will require applicants to address multiple categories.

Full details about the challenge are scheduled to be released in June, with the challenge opening date scheduled for July.

After a submission and evaluation period, winners will be announced at AcademyHealth’s 2019 Health Datapalooza. The event will be cosponsored by the Aetna Foundation.

“Data is the lifeblood of research and its innovative use by talented people can be transformative,” said Dr. Lisa Simpson, AcademyHealth president and CEO. “I can’t wait to see what participants come up with and how their work will point the way to significant improvements in the health of communities.”

If you’d like to receive updates about this data challenge, please email


Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams, M.A.

Director of Communications and Public Relations - AcademyHealth

Lauren Adams, M.A., is director of communications and public relations at AcademyHealth, where she oversees pu... Read Bio

Raj Sabharwal
Committee Member, Staff

Raj Sabharwal, M.P.H.

Senior Director - AcademyHealth

Mr. Sabharwal is the Director of Strategic Alliances at AcademyHealth, where he works on projects that support... Read Bio

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