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Roadmaps Out of Fantasyland: RWJF’s Outbreaks Report and the National Health Preparedness Security Index

Jan 30, 2015, 5:47 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Outbreaks 2014

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” the late Theodore Woodward, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautioned his students in the 1940s. Woodward’s warning is still invoked to discourage doctors from making rare medical diagnoses for sick patients, when more common ones are usually the cause.

And while many Americans have worried about contracting Ebola—in viral terms, a kind of “zebra”—more commonplace microbial “horses,” such as influenza and measles viruses, continue to pose far greater threats. For instance, a large multistate measles outbreak has been traced to Disneyland theme parks in California—while this year’s strain of seasonal flu has turned out to be severe and widespread.

One obvious conclusion is that many microbes remain a harmful health menace, expected to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans this year. Another—speaking of Disneyland—is that much of America appears to live in a kind of fantasyland, thinking that it is protected against infectious disease.

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Field Notes: What Cuba Can Teach Us about Building a Culture of Health

Jan 29, 2015, 9:54 AM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden, Susan Mende

MaryJoan Ladden and Susan Mende Trip to Cuba

Ever since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, there’s been growing excitement over the potential for new opportunities for tourism, as well as technology and business exchanges. Most people assume that the flow will be one-sided, with the United States providing expertise and investment to help Cuba’s struggling economy and decaying infrastructure.

That assumption would be wrong. America can—and already has—learned a lot from Cuba. At RWJF, we support MEDICC, an organization that strives to use lessons gleaned from Cuba’s health care system to improve outcomes in four medically underserved communities in the United States—South Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Bronx, N.Y. Even with very limited resources, Cuba has universal medical and dental care and provides preventive strategies and primary care at the neighborhood level, resulting in enviable health outcomes. Cuba has a low infant mortality rate and the lowest HIV rate in the Americas, for example—with a fraction of the budget spent in the United States.

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Diabetes: The Case for Considering Context

Jan 27, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Tiffany Green

At Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Briana Mezuk, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Division of Epidemiology; and Tiffany L. Green, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research. Both are alumnae of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program.

Tiffany Green Tiffany L. Green, PhD
Briana Mezuk Briana Mezuk, PhD

Approximately 30 million U.S. adults currently have diabetes, and an additional 86 million have pre-diabetes. The incidence of diabetes has increased substantially over the past 30 years, including among children. Estimates place the direct and indirect costs of diabetes at a staggering $218 billion annually.1 Like many other diseases, disparities on the basis of race and income are apparent with diabetes. Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and socioeconomically advantaged groups. 

Despite the enormous economic and social costs associated with diabetes, it remains a struggle to apply what we know about diabetes prevention to communities at the highest risk. We have robust evidence from randomized controlled trials that changing health behaviors, including adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise routine and subsequent weight loss, will significantly lower the risk of diabetes. Unfortunately, these promising findings only appear to apply to the short-term. Even worse, results from community-based translation efforts have been much more modest than expected, and show only limited promise of reducing long-term diabetes risk. In response, leaders at the National Institutes of Health have noted that many efforts at translating clinical findings into community settings are “limited in scope and applicability, underemphasizing the value of context.”2

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The Imperative to Collaborate Across Disciplines to Make It Easier to be Healthy

Jan 12, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Chevy Williams

Chevy Williams, PhD, MPH, is a fellow at Experience Institute, where she is learning and applying design thinking to social problems. Williams is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Chevy Williams

Today, we can get access to just about anything in minutes or hours. Smartphones put a world of information literally at our fingertips. Within minutes, most of us can get food we want, entertainment we desire, even travel to another city. But seeing a doctor, an arguably more immediate need, is not so easy. Creating a Culture of Health requires our collective interdisciplinary expertise to make health and health care as accessible and user-friendly as other products and services we use on a regular basis.

Health Care in 2015 logo

Before I left academia, I heard the word “interdisciplinary” tossed around a lot, but I saw it practiced in very safe ways. Typical research teams of grants I was on or would review comprised researchers from only the social, psychological, and health and medical sciences.  As public health faculty, I’d hear statements like “Public health is inherently interdisciplinary.” This may be true since public health draws from multiple disciplines, but I couldn’t help but feel that such statements were more a reflection of inertia than anything else.

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The Best Defense is a Strong Offense: Strengthening Our Nation’s Outbreak Preparedness

Dec 22, 2014, 5:08 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

Outbreaks 2014

In the shadow of this year’s Ebola outbreak, the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a new report, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases.

The report finds that while significant advances have been made in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies, gaps in preparedness remain and have been exacerbated as resources have been cut over time.

On the eve of the report’s release, I spoke with Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health to get his thoughts on today’s preparedness landscape—think, Ebola—what to do about shrinking budgets and growing infectious disease threats, and where to go from here.

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Stress and Family Support – Two Important Social Determinants of Health for Hispanic/Latino Communities

Dec 2, 2014, 11:00 AM, Posted by Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda

Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, RN, CPH, FAAN, is an assistant professor at the University of Miami, School of Nursing & Health Studies and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program. On Friday, December 5, she will be a panelist at the RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

Scholars Forum 2014 Logo

My research has focused on understanding and addressing behavioral and mental health disparities experienced by Hispanic/Latino communities. Although I initiated my research looking at substance abuse, violence, HIV and mental health as separate conditions that often co-occurred in marginalized communities, I soon realized that these conditions were just symptoms of an underlying phenomena— something my colleagues and I refer to as the Syndemic factor.

Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda

We have been studying the social determinants of the Syndemic factor in hopes of developing culturally tailored interventions that can potentially address multiple behavioral and mental health outcomes for the Hispanic/Latino community. From this research we have learned that interventions that address stress and family support offer promise for this community.

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Improving Health through Collaboration: The BUILD Health Challenge

Nov 26, 2014, 8:59 AM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky

Brownsville Farmers’ Market Enhancing community health: Customers buy produce at the Brownsville Farmers' Market in the Culture of Health Prize-winning city of Brownsville, Texas

Here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the name of the game is collaboration. Our goal—to build a Culture of Health in which getting and staying healthy is a fundamental societal priority—is an ambitious one, requiring coordinated efforts among everyone in a community, from local businesses to schools to hospitals and government. It also calls for those of us at the Foundation to collaborate with other like-minded groups to address the complex challenges that stand in the way of better health.

That is why we are so pleased to be a partner in the BUILD Health Challenge, a $7.5 million program designed to increase the number and effectiveness of community collaborations to improve health.

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Ebola as an Instrument of Discrimination

Nov 21, 2014, 1:00 PM, Posted by Allison Aiello

Jennifer Schroeder, Stephanie M. DeLong, Shannon Heintz, Maya Nadimpalli, Jennifer Yourkavitch, and Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This blog was developed under the guidance of Aiello’s social epidemiology seminar course.

Allison Aiello Allison Aiello

Ebola is an infectious disease that the world has seen before in more moderate outbreaks in Africa. As the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken a global turn, fear, misinformation and long-standing stigma and discrimination have acted as major contributors to the epidemic and response. Stigma is a mark upon someone, whether visible or invisible, that society judgmentally acts upon. Ebola has become a significant source of stigma among West Africans and the Western world.

In many ways, the source of this discrimination can be traced back to the legacy of colonialism and the western approach to infectious disease response in Africa. The history of foreign humanitarian aid has sometimes dismissed cultural traditions and beliefs. As a consequence, trust in westerners has eroded and has been compounded by a disconnect between western humanitarian aid approaches and a lack of overall infrastructure investment on the part of African national health systems. This is apparent in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Some don’t actually think that Ebola exists; instead they believe that it is a hoax carried out by the Western world. All of these factors are facilitating the rapid spread of the disease.

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Healthy Community Planning Means Healthier Neighbors

Nov 17, 2014, 3:44 PM, Posted by Helene Combs Dreiling

5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory. 5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory.

Too often, U.S. public health policy focuses on treating illnesses after they are diagnosed, instead of encouraging healthy lifestyles to prevent illness in the first place. But architects—my profession—are engaged in a wholesale effort to reverse this focus. Throughout the U.S., right in the buildings where we live and work, architects are incorporating design techniques that can help prevent illness and benefit the local communities that live with their designs.

One of the best examples of this effort—even amidst bankruptcy and a historic unraveling of a once-dominant American city—is the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), a nonprofit architecture and urban design firm that offers proof that neighborhoods that facilitate holistic wellness and preventative care are as valuable as doctors who make house calls.

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Is Louisville, Kentucky, the New Face of Asthma Healthography?

Nov 17, 2014, 11:00 AM, Posted by Meredith Barrett

Meredith Barrett

Leaders in Louisville, Kentucky, know first-hand that where you live and work affects your health and well-being. During a special session at the American Public Health Association’s meeting this week in New Orleans, we explore how the air quality in Louisville neighborhoods impacts the health, economy and overall vibrancy of the community. And we’ll highlight how Louisville is the poster child for tackling tough issues like asthma head-on, top-down and bottom-up, through data and collaboration among individual residents, corporate execs, community organizers and public leaders. 

American Public Health Association Meeting & Expo

Asthma attacks are sneaky, expensive and debilitating, yet almost entirely preventable.

Asthma is one of the most common and costly chronic diseases in the United States, affecting more than 8 percent of the U.S. population. Despite decades of research and the development of effective treatments, rates of morbidity have not declined and health care costs reach more than $50 billion a year. Asthma also leads to more than 13 million missed days of school and 10 million missed days of work, negatively affecting educational achievement, employee productivity and regional business growth. But the most frustrating part is that a large proportion of these hefty impacts could be avoided with improvements in self-management, community policy and advances in digital health care.

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