Author Archives: Anna Heling

Why Microbes and Albert Einstein are a Part of Our Culture of Health

Jul 19, 2013, 4:09 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

This is the second in a series. Read the first here.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Below, three more members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

 

BRINGING ROLLERBLADING BACK: Christine Nieves (Program Associate, Pioneer Team)

For Nieves, this summer is all about conquering fears. Although she spent her teenage years rollerblading in her native Puerto Rico, her hiatus from the wheels translated into being “terrified” of the activity. Even so, she’s spending her free time getting back into the groove of rollerblading while simultaneously exploring local parks. “It’s more than exercise,” she said. “It’s getting over things that make me nervous and that I’m afraid to do. It’s looking at the things that hold me back and building confidence.”

Nieves and her boyfriend/pseudo-rollerblading coach have already taken to the paved paths of Mercer County Park and Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve (with a goal of rolling around Princeton Stadium “when no one’s looking”).

Lazy patterns of physical activity can lead into lazy patterns of thought, Nieves said, and she reminds herself of this Albert Einstein quote when she’s feeling the urge to slouch on the couch: “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Added Nieves, “Maintaining a culture of health is something that helps me maintain my mind and set physical, professional, and personal goals for myself. I think of it as a holistic thing.”

 

OPENING THAT WINDOW: Lori Melichar (Director)

The New York City dweller was struck by a recent RWJF talk about microbes, the trillions of microorganisms invisible to the naked eye that surround us and interact with our bodies and the environment. Biologist, engineer, and ecologist Jessica Green visited the Foundation and said that our secure, built environment – the buildings where we live, work, and play – may not be the healthiest. By holding tight control over our environments and keeping the outdoors out and the indoors in, Green said the microbes around us are less diverse, which studies suggest increases our risk of interacting with potential pathogens.

With this in mind, Melichar is doing what she can to ramp up her microbial variety. “For one of my recent meetings I went on a walking meeting around the Foundation,” she said. “The way I used to think about that was walking for exercise, and now I think about it as getting a little bit of variation in my microbes. I’d never thought before about this, but it seems like there’s the potential for this variation to be health-increasing.”

She said even opening the window a crack can help: “If you have the window open a bit, microbes from the trees and from the birds and from everything else outside can mix with everything inside that hasn’t gotten out...because we have double-doors on everything.”

 

“GREEN-IFYING” THE HOME: Linda Manning (Program Team Coordinator, Program Service Center)

Along with a 60-year-old house come inevitable renovations, but Manning is choosing to make them green ones. After a faulty lawnmower spit out a rock, breaking a window in her Hamilton home, she and her husband decided to replace their basement windows with those that are more energy efficient.

They’re also re-landscaping to combat the hungry creatures chomping away at the yard. “Rather than spraying all the flowers and plants with a spray – which isn’t always friendly to the environment – we decided to change a lot of the plants to those that will discourage the animals from snacking on them,” Manning said.

Keeping her home tidy and up-to-date helps her stay healthy, too. “I’ve had a lot of health problems that are not controlled by the environment, but I find that, if I do these things, it makes me feel better,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I have a really clean home. I think it just makes everybody healthier.”

How We're Furthering the Culture of Health This Summer

Jun 19, 2013, 3:28 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

Strawberry Picking RWJF Program Officer Jasmine Hall Ratliff said a trip to the strawberry patch was a great way to show her 3-year-old daughter where food comes from.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Here, in the first in a series, members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

BEING A HEALTHY ROLE MODEL: Jasmine Hall Ratliff (Program Officer for the Childhood Obesity team)

After losing her mother to cancer at a young age, Hall Ratliff grew up with a single father who instilled in her the importance of healthy living: he used the office gym, cooked at home and encouraged the kids to participate in sports. Now, as a relatively new mom herself, Hall Ratliff is working to foster that same culture of health in her 3-year-old daughter Beverly. She said the family’s garden on the balcony and trips to the local strawberry patch help demonstrate where food comes from and the importance of local produce. For Hall Ratliff, losing her mother to cancer and her dad’s subsequent healthy role modeling reinforced the importance of creating a culture of health. “Losing my mother to cancer at a young age makes me value my own health and do all I can to prevent the diseases that I can prevent. It’s important to me, and I want my daughter to understand healthy living.”

BIKING UP THE COAST OF CONNECTICUT: Robin Hogen (Vice President, Communications)

For the second year in a row, Hogen will bike the 100-mile route from Stamford to Essex to benefit the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, an organization that provides free legal assistance to veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness. The cycling enthusiast heard about the Legal Center from a friend and said pushing the pedals is a healthy way to raise money for a cause that’s important to him. He’s prepping for the ride by cycling a few times a week, as well as keeping active through running and sailing. As for the ride, he said it’s all about the exercise—and the organization: “You have to remind yourself that it’s not a race; it’s about finishing. Not finishing first…just finishing.”

GIVING BEES A HOME: Sherry DeMarchi (Communications Specialist)

The animal lover and her husband are prepping their yard for a new type of creature: bees. DeMarchi said she recently learned that the number of wild bee colonies is dwindling fast, which research shows will have an effect on the availability of fruits and vegetables (they pollinate many agricultural crops). “Because of the high use of insecticides and pesticides and habitat loss, we’re seeing this dramatic decrease in the abundance of these bees,” DeMarchi said. “Although it doesn’t involve a lot of physical activity, we feel that we’re contributing toward the culture of health by working toward keeping these important little beings in the ecosystem so they can pollinate…and everybody can eat.” DeMarchi’s prepping her yard for the thousands of visitors, building the hives in an old fort of her son’s and visiting friends who’ve “housed” bees themselves to get some tips.

Ending a Childhood Disease

Jun 10, 2013, 10:48 AM, Posted by Anna Heling, Kristin Schubert

Poverty Epidemic Blog Graphic

We rarely think of poverty as a disease. It doesn’t trace back to a microbe, it doesn’t transmit through coughs or sneezes. But for children, the effects of poverty can have lifelong implications as devastating as many diseases.

As author Perri Klass, MD, noted recently in The New York Times, the stress and limitations that often accompany childhood poverty can influence children’s life trajectories, change their dispositions, blunt their brain development, and even alter their genes.

Today we’re in the midst of a poverty epidemic not seen since the Depression. We have more kids living in poverty now than we have had for generations. That’s scary, especially now that we know what poverty does to you neurologically, biologically, and socially. A child’s early development has huge implications on health for when that child is 20 years old, or even 30, 40, or 50 years old.

So what can we do about it? To start, we need to look holistically at who is around to support a child. Who is giving care to make sure a child can, as Klass puts it, “grow toward the light”? As a society, we need to ask how we can make sure families have the supports they need to give the best care to their child, even as they face the trials of poverty.

Support for lifting children and families out of poverty often gets wrapped up in asking who’s accountable for the situation, or the politics around a handout versus picking yourself up from your bootstraps. The conversation—and action—could get further if we set aside these polarizations and approached the problem, instead, as an early childhood disease. There’s a huge need for that conversation to happen. We all have a stake in this. It’s costly to pay for poor health outcomes that we know stem from trauma and adversity early in life. Whether you care from an economic perspective or you care from a moral one, recognizing poverty as a childhood disease is imperative to the future wellbeing and productivity of our society.

Early childhood is a primary focus of the 2013 Commission to Build a Healthier America, which meets June 19 in Washington, D.C. 

Learn more and register for the public meeting