Tackling Great Challenges at TEDMED

Sep 10, 2014, 7:00 AM, Posted by Susan Promislo

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TEDMED calls them the “Great Challenges:” Knotty issues that can’t be solved with a simple cure. Reducing childhood obesity. Determining how to engage patients more effectively. Accelerating the pace—and lowering the cost—of medical innovation. Eliminating poverty as a hurdle to good health. Cutting health care costs. Embracing prevention as the most effective medicine of all.

All of these great challenges call for new ways of thinking, new approaches, and a shift in society’s values if we are to conquer them. That’s why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is supporting TEDMED, taking place this month in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco—to bring together innovative thinkers, keep the dialogue flowing, and hopefully facilitate some great solutions to these great challenges.

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Expanding Horizons for Rural Young Men of Color

Sep 8, 2014, 1:55 PM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

Forward Promise - Oakland

When we first began the Forward Promise initiative, we envisioned building the capacity and impact of organizations across the country working with boys and young men of color from every type of community and background. We wanted to identify and support a cohort of grantees that were diverse in their approach, in their geography, and in the racial, ethnic and cultural experiences of the young people that they supported. Once we began doing this work, it didn’t take long to realize we were falling short.

The simple truth is that the majority of organizations who applied for Forward Promise that had demonstrated success and were ready to expand were located in major cities. Few applicants were in the rural beltway that stretches across the Southern United States, from Alabama to Arizona. It would be easy to assume that there weren’t many young men of color there or that there was not much innovation or capacity to support young men of color in that region. But you know what they say about assumptions ...

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Obesity in America: Are We Turning the Corner?

Sep 4, 2014, 9:18 AM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

Childhood Obesity West Virginia

What word describes the current state of obesity in the United States?

How about the unexpected: Optimistic.

You might think that would be the least likely descriptor. After all, the annual report The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, released today by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), says adult obesity rates went up in six states over last year.

The obesity rate is now at or above 30 percent in 20 states (as high as 35 percent in Mississippi and West Virginia), and not below 21 percent in any. Colorado has the lowest rate at 21.3 percent, which still puts it higher than today’s highest state—Mississippi—was 20 years ago.  The childhood obesity headlines are difficult to swallow as well. As of 2011-2012, nearly one out of three children and teens ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese. Similar to adults, racial and ethnic disparities persist. And rates are higher still among Black and Latino communities.

But if we look a little deeper, we see a hint of promise on the horizon.

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No More Tobacco Behind the Counter at CVS

Sep 3, 2014, 2:40 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

CVS Tobacco Stopping Starts Here in Store Sign

You can pick up a prescription. You can get your blood pressure checked. You can buy a bottle of pain reliever, a package of bandages, a tube of toothpaste.

Here's what you can't do at CVS: buy cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

Last February, CVS (now CVS Health) announced its decision to remove all tobacco products from its 7,700 pharmacies nationwide. One month ahead of the deadline the company set for itself, CVS has declared all of its stores free of tobacco products.

Back when CVS made its announcement, RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, praised the pharmacy chain’s decision to go tobacco-free, saying, “In eliminating the sale of tobacco products, CVS recognizes that pharmacies and pharmacists are responsible for far more than filling prescriptions and selling sundries; they have become a key partner for better health in neighborhoods across the nation.”

At the time, some raised questions about the business impact of that decision, Lavizzo-Mourey acknowledged in a related blog post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. In snuffing out tobacco sales, she noted, CVS stands to lose about $2 million in revenue. That’s a big hit in the short term, but it could also be a smart move in the long run, many analysts say, as the chain seeks to grow its in-store clinic program and partner with traditional health care providers.

Regardless of business considerations, the decision by CVS to stop selling tobacco in its stores is also the right thing to do for the nation’s health, Lavizzo-Mourey noted in her LinkedIn post. “In today’s interconnected world, corporate policies must take into consideration far more than short term revenues—the health and wellness of a company’s employees, customers, and community are also key determinants of the well-being of its business.”

Read coverage of this week’s announcement:

Living Out Their Salad Days: Shaping Healthier Environments for Kids in the Nation’s Schools

Sep 2, 2014, 10:59 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A school lunchroom full of hundreds of young children, happily slurping up ... salad.

If you’re someone who’s ever struggled to get kids to eat their vegetables, it sounds like an impossible dream.

But this is reality at Anne Frank Elementary School, the largest in Philadelphia, with 1,200 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Serving salads was the brainchild of Anne Frank principal Mickey Komins, who had the salads brought in from a local high school cafeteria.

Along with the after-school Zumba and kickboxing classes that the school now sponsors for kids, parents, and staff, healthier food offerings are among the innovations that earned Anne Frank an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee, is a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation to help stem the tide of childhood obesity. It’s at the vanguard of a growing national movement to turn schools into healthier environments, and offer kids fundamental lifelong lessons about maintaining their health.

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Healthy Communities: The Building Blocks of a Culture of Health

Aug 25, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Baldwin Park California

What do Corvallis, Ore.; Baldwin Park, Calif.; and Buffalo, N.Y. have in common? It certainly isn’t their weather.

Hint—the commonality is something much more relevant to RWJF’s newly refined mission. These three cities are building a Culture of Health for all their citizens. They are tapping into the skills and resources of a diverse group of partners to ensure everyone has access to healthy choices. It’s their collective efforts, along with dozens of other communities supported by the Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) program, that make me so optimistic about our organizational goal.

My strong belief that environments—physical, social and educational—play a prominent role in our individual health and well-being is what initially drew me to RWJF. So, in 2008, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to be the national program officer for HKHC, which addressed the root causes of childhood obesity by transforming the physical activity and food environments in which children and their families live, learn and play.

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Are E-Cigs a Gateway to Smoking for Teens?

Aug 21, 2014, 3:44 PM, Posted by Sheree Crute

Vaping Electronic Cigarette

As you step through the door of Beyond Vape, you are enveloped in the warm scent of vanilla, tinged with butterscotch. The sleek glass counters and display cases are reminiscent of a high-end cigar shop, but there are no tobacco leaves on hand here. This popular, high-end “vaping” parlor, on one of Williamsburg Brooklyn’s more popular streets, is one of seven the company owns on the East and West Coasts.

Vaping—or inhaling richly flavored, heated vapor through a slender, battery-powered tube—is the latest trend in “smoking,” without actually lighting a traditional cigarette. Cindy Hsu, the store’s manager, explains that some of her customers “vape" without even adding liquid nicotine to the tube’s cylinder. “They prefer to just enjoy the extensive menu of flavors such as mocha mint, kiwi strawberry and pineapple.”

Tasty flavors are one thing, but there’s another popular incentive to vape: the claim that vaping can help you stop smoking. Another neighborhood shop, Brooklyn Vaper, advertises its wares with a video explaining that vaping is a “greener, cheaper alternative to help you quit smoking effortlessly... while vaping in 40 flavors.”

Is that true? Can vaping or pre-packaged e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

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Straight Talk: Black Women, Hair and Exercise

Aug 21, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Keecha Harris

When you're starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons.—U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, August 2011

I once wrote about how black women can care for their hair when physically active. It featured the perspectives of women ages 21 to 65 on how we protect our weaved, straightened, and natural styles while exercising. After reading the post, a well-respected public health leader admitted, “I did not know that hair care was an issue that kept black women from exercising.”

I wasn’t surprised that a middle-aged, middle class, white male had missed this not-too-insignificant tidbit. But I was saddened that someone with a prominent role in prevention wasn’t aware of an important factor behind the obesity crisis among black women.

There are many reasons why four out of every five black women in the U.S. are overweight or obese: We live in neighborhoods that make eating cheap, high-calorie foods and beverages very easy, but physical activity very hard. Some wonder if our genes predispose us to excess weight; others say that we are beyond motivation, given data suggesting that too many of us suffer untreated depression.

But hair, for black women, adds a whole other level of complexity, as we struggle with how we can maintain our hairstyles while being physically active. Hair is no small matter for us—it is intimately connected with our life experiences, from whether we get married, to how much money we make, to who we socialize with. Ultimately hair is a powerful mediator for how African-American women feel about themselves.

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Building the Information-Rich Culture of Health

Aug 20, 2014, 10:36 AM, Posted by Mike Painter, Susan Dentzer

Reform by the Numbers Visual

What if your mother wanted to take some ibuprofen for her arthritis, but didn’t know if it would interact adversely with her other medications?

No problem, right?

She could whip out her smartphone and launch an app that connected to her local health information exchange. Within fractions of a second, the exchange would verify her identity, locate the computer storing her electronic health record (EHR), and shoot an answer back to her.

This scenario is just one example of the many ways that having timely access to health information could contribute to health. It could, that is, if the nation had an agreed-upon way to organize data about health and health care in ways that made it easily accessible and usable while still secure and protected.

But for now, we don’t.

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A Survivor’s Take on Depression: We are the Sad Ones Try to Understand Us

Aug 15, 2014, 11:22 AM

Depression Painting to go with blog post Painted in the hospital after suicide attempt

(This post was written by a member of the RWJF family who has asked to remain anonymous.)

Every day I worry that I will be caught. It could happen any time, any place, and by any one person that looks past my smile and into my eyes and knows immediately that I am not like him nor her. He or she will not see the color of my eyes, but rather that I am hiding something.

I have been in and out of therapy since the age of 9, and on and off antidepressants of every color and brand for more than 20 years. Yet I stand here today with the same diagnosis that I had when I was a child, despite the “help” and the “work” that I have devoted to my illness ever since I can remember. I have clinical depression.

I will never be “okay” by conventional standards without medication. I have finally come to realize that this is not my fault, but rather a product of my DNA. Nonetheless, I hide in shame. No one knows of my diagnosis, or the medicines that I take to help control it, or the acting that I perform daily to hide it.

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