Now Viewing: Social determinants of health

Let’s Talk About Stress

Oct 2, 2014, 9:52 AM, Posted by Mike Painter

Mike Painter Mike Painter speaking at Health 2.0.

I recently returned from the Health 2.0 conference in California, which drew 2,000 health care innovators. One of the most popular Health 2.0 sessions was called “The Unmentionables”—where speakers discussed those important things that affect our health but we are often afraid to address. I participated in this year’s session where we talked stress—what it is and how it’s making us sick.

I’m an avid cyclist. That means I train a lot. Training on a bike means purposefully and intensely stressing your body—sometimes ridiculously hard—in order to make your body stronger, fitter and faster. In that sense stress can be really good. You can’t get stronger without it.

But here’s the key: as you ratchet up that stress—the miles, the hours on the bike, the intensity—you must work just as hard on the flipside, the buffering. The more you train, the more you have to focus on the rest, the sleep, your social supports, the yoga, the nutrition—whatever it takes.

If you don’t buffer you will burn out, get injured or sick, or all of the above. Without buffers, the stress will crush you.

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Stress: Withstanding the Waves

Sep 23, 2014, 11:42 AM, Posted by Ari Kramer

Infographic: stress_section
Infographic: stress_section

Infographic: How Do We Move From a Culture of Stress to a Culture of Health?

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As a kid, when you went to the beach, did you ever play that game where you’d wade into the ocean and test your strength against the waves? You'd stand your ground or get knocked over, and after a few minutes, you'd head back to shore.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but as we felt those waves roll by, we were getting an early glimpse of the stresses of everyday life. The difference is, as adults we can't choose to stand up to just the small ones. And for the most part, going back to shore is not an option.

In a survey RWJF conducted with the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR, about half of the public reported experiencing a major stressful event in the past year. In more than four in 10 instances, people reported events related specifically to health. Many also reported feeling a lot of stress connected with jobs and finances, family situations, and responsibility in general.

Over time, those waves can take their toll. And when they become overwhelming, they can truly wear us down, seriously affecting our both our physical and emotional health.

So how can we deal with these waves of stress? Certainly, there are proactive things we can all do help manage its effect on our lives—exercise, for example. At the same time, we’ve probably all experienced instances when we’d love nothing more than to get up early for a run or brisk walk—but don’t have the energy because stress kept us up at night. Or we may just be too tapped out from long hours, relationship struggles, caring for loved ones, etc., to spare the energy or the time.

If this sounds familiar, consider yourself human. Right next to you, whether at work, on the train, in your grocery store, is probably someone whose waves are similar to or bigger than your own. So at the same time as you try to manage your stress, ask yourself: What could be done to help others achieve a solid footing? In this ocean of ours, there’s never a shortage of opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Have an idea to help move from a culture of stress to a Culture of Health in the home, workplace or community? Please share below—we’d love to hear from you.

How Do We Empower Communities to Get Healthy?

Jul 6, 2014, 9:03 PM, Posted by Martin Scaglione

Shoppers at an outside food market in Philadelphia

I’ve been privileged to live in many communities across the nation—16, to be exact. My wife Lisa and I recently moved from Iowa City, a "college town" of 80,000 people, to New York City, a bustling urban region of 23 million. Life from city to city and region to region is different in some ways, yet concerns related to community wellness remain the same.

On any given Saturday throughout the year, one can find dozens of farmers markets in New York City with fresh local produce and other offerings that encourage healthful choices. This is something we expected while living in Iowa, but were pleased to also find in the city. However, despite the fact that both communities benefit from farmers markets, health awareness campaigns and arguably the finest health care providers, both also struggle with obesity and chronic illness. Even within cities well equipped to promote health and provide care, certain individuals and neighborhoods thrive, while others struggle; is this merely a reflection of wealth disparity, or could it have to do with something more?

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A Prescription for Solutions that Bridge Health and Health Care

Jun 12, 2014, 1:44 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

MOYER_101203_06850_RET A former Health Leads volunteer who has since gone into practicing medicine hands Health Leads volunteer, Brittany Ashe, a Health Leads prescription at the Harriet Lane Clinic in Baltimore, Md.

When Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was a physician-in-training at a hospital in a disadvantaged area of Boston, she came to know a woman that she recalls now as "Patient Ruth."

Writing in the professional social networking site LinkedIn, Lavizzo-Mourey remembers Ruth vividly:

"Her feet were swollen, she wore flimsy house shoes, and raw leg ulcers made walking painful. She’d been to the hospital many times before, and we gave her the usual treatment—a few hours in a warm bed, some antibiotics, and a decent meal. The next morning she limped back to the same problems: No home, no job, lousy food, cast-off clothing, no family or friends to come to her aid. We were not equipped to protect her from the harshness of life outside the hospital, a life that was literally killing her."

If health care providers want to improve patients' wellbeing, Lavizzo-Mourey adds, "they must find a way to bridge the worlds in and out of the clinic."

Lavizzo-Mourey points to many splendid examples of projects and programs designed to address the social determinants of patient health—including Boston-based and RWJF-supported Health Leads, which prescribes basic resources for low-income patients—everything from food to job training.

Bridges between health and health care are "spreading across the nation," Lavizzo-Mourey writes, and she invites readers to suggest other examples, "so there will be no more Patient Ruths."

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Two New Mexico Counties: One’s Healthy, One’s Not. Why?

Jun 4, 2014, 10:48 AM, Posted by Barbara Basler

NewMexicoRWJF_0540_RET

The healthiest county in New Mexico—indeed one of the healthiest  counties anywhere in the country—is Los Alamos, ironically the birthplace of the world’s first atomic bomb.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Los Alamos, with one of the highest concentrations of PhDs and one of the highest median incomes in the nation, is not only wealthy and wise, but very healthy. In fact, it is a shining example of how education, income, and community—or the lack of—can shape our health, says Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the Rankings project.

New Mexico is a poor, rural state with a few small pockets of wealth. A 2012 analysis of state income disparities by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington found that the gap between New Mexico’s rich and poor is, proportionately the widest in the nation. The County Health Rankings reflect the health consequences of that gap.

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Building a Culture of Health in Every Community

May 28, 2014, 10:19 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

DC metro map

Where you live can make a big difference in how long you live.

With an introduction by American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown, RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, lends strength to that argument in a new entry in The Huffington Post.

Brown notes that people near the Friendship Heights station of Washington, D.C.'s Metro system live seven years longer than residents of the area surrounding the Tenleytown-AU station—just two stops away. Friendship Heights is in Maryland; Tenleytown-AU is in the District of Columbia. (View maps for Washington, D.C., and several other major cities and areas of the country.)

Lavizzo-Mourey picks up on that theme, elaborating on the findings and recommendations of the Foundation's recently issued County Health Rankings.

"Such socio-economic factors may seem like insurmountable obstacles to good health, but I believe we can use the County Health Rankings to help build a Culture of Health in every community," Lavizzo-Mourey writes. A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, she adds, also offers practical solutions to the problem, with 10 recommendations "for improving factors that lie far outside the clinic's door, such as early childhood education, adequate shelter, access to fresh produce, and the high levels of stress produced by living in poverty."

Read Lavizzo-Mourey's views in the Huffington Post

A Healthier Denver

Apr 29, 2014, 8:55 AM, Posted by Shale Wong

Bldg a Healthier Denver Members of the Collective - GlaxoSmithKline

I live in Denver. I work in Denver. And as a pediatrician, I’ve dedicated my life to the health of Denver’s kids. It is remarkable to me how connected our health is to our community. In Denver, we have some of the finest health care in the state, yet more and more of our kids are struggling to maintain a healthy weight. It takes much more than having great hospitals in our community for our kids to live a healthy life.

If we want all our kids to grow up healthy in Denver and throughout the United States, we must recognize all of the elements that affect their well-being. That means ensuring our communities are safe, with strong education and ample access to healthy foods and recreational spaces. And it means addressing poverty whether it is tucked into pockets or widespread in our communities.

This connection between our health and our community was affirmed by the release of the latest County Health Rankings and Roadmaps—an initiative of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The latest installment showed that those of us who live in the least healthy communities in America are twice as likely to live shorter lives as those who live in healthy communities. And these least healthy communities have twice as many kids living in poverty.

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Why Empathy is Essential to a Culture of Health

Apr 11, 2014, 11:34 AM, Posted by Tara Oakman

Peace activist Zak Ebrahim speaks at TED 2014

Everyone knows it is hard to get 2-year-olds to do anything on a schedule. They want to do everything their way, on their own time. As you can imagine, trying to get my twins out the door each morning—let alone take a bath or eat a meal, can be quite a challenge. After trying a number of different parenting methods, I have discovered that the one way I can usually motivate them is to talk about feelings, and get them to recognize how their actions affect their sibling. Just yesterday, the only way I could get my son out of the bath was by telling him that his sister was sad and lonely waiting for him. And then, and only then, did he move.

Building empathy has been a critical strategy in my household of late—not only because it helps motivate them, but also because it is an important part of their social development. Lately I have been thinking about empathy on a larger scale, beyond my household, and how critical it is to building a Culture of Health.

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Making a Collective Impact in the Lives of Young Men of Color

Apr 2, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

Hispanic, Iraqi and African American male students

On a bone-chilling cold day in Chicago last fall, I went on a site visit for a pending grantee. The grantee's office was warm and cozy, tucked away in a neighborhood with a bustling corridor of small businesses that sold a variety of ethnic foods and baked goods. The office walls told the stories of the neighborhood through brightly colored murals depicting loving families and happy children, on a backdrop of a beautiful Chicago landscape.

During this site visit I met a young man named Jose who captivated the room with his story. Jose loved art, even though his school had no art program. Art was the one way that he could express his love, fear, joy and pain. The art poured out of him—on his notebooks and books, and eventually on the walls and fences of his community. Luckily, a relative recognized Jose’s talent and found a community art program where he could learn his craft and express himself on canvases and murals instead of on buildings and public property.

A few months later, Jose was called into his principal’s office and threatened with suspension. Teachers and staff suspected that Jose was to blame for recent vandalism on school property. Shocked and nervous, Jose tried to explain that his art program had given him an outlet and that he no longer drew on desks or walls. But he had no proof and was suspended.

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Bridging Health and Health Care: Confessions of an "Upstreamist"

Mar 20, 2014, 8:40 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

The Upstream Doctors

A key aspect of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new “culture of health” focus is “bridging” the two worlds of population health and health care. One component of that bridge—arguably, its abutment—rests in the nation’s more than 100 academic health centers (AHC’s).

These schools of health and medical professional education, linked with owned or affiliated teaching hospitals and health systems, have long concentrated on the invention and provision of intensive, costly, and high-tech medicine. But now some of these centers are also building bridges upstream—focusing on incomes, housing, transportation, and other social forces that are the primary drivers of health.

Leaders in this movement recently convened at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for the third national conference of Academic Health Centers and the Social Determinants of Health.

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