Culture of Health News and views from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Thu, 20 Nov 2014 15:47:00 -0500 en-us Copyright 2000- 2014 RWJF (RWJF) <![CDATA[Data4Health: Live from San Francisco]]> San Francisco Golden Gate and City View

Join us online to hear from leading national experts on how we can use data to build a Culture of Health.

DATE: Thursday, December 4
TIME: 12 p.m.—1:30 p.m. ET/9 a.m.–10:30 a.m. PT

VIEWING INSTRUCTIONS: The event will be broadcast on this blog post.  Please save this link to watch the event.


  • Karen DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health, US Department of Health and Human Services
  • Andrew Rosenthal, group manager for platform + wellness, Jawbone
  • Gary Wolf, co-founder, Quantified Self Movement
  • Roni Zeiger, CEO, Smart Patients

Register for the webcast

Blog post by Ivor Horn, MD, Advisory Committee Co-Chair and San Francisco MC

It has truly been a fun experience working with the team at RWJF on the Data for Health Initiative. Since we embarked on this journey at the end of October we have been moving at break neck speed to learn how people throughout the country want to use data to build a Culture of Health. As co-chair of this initiative with Dave Ross, director of the Public Health Informatics Institute, I have had the honor of being a “fly on the wall” during discussions in three amazing cities (Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Des Moines). Each session started with insights from local leaders actively engaged in using data to better understand the communities and populations that they serve. But the power of the meetings has really been the content of the Q&A sessions after the talks. This is when people in the room–the folks with “boots on the ground”–give their input.  


Ivor Horn, Seattle Children's Hospital

In addition to interacting with brilliant, passionate advocates for health, I have usually walked away from each meeting with as least one key lesson, and I take that lesson to the next meeting. In Philadelphia, one of the participants made a statement that captured the true essence of why we are doing this–she said we need to move from using data to ask “What’s the matter?”  to instead ask “What matters to you?”

In Phoenix, one of our participant experts reminded us that we don’t just need “big data” we need “long data” as well. We need to understand how things are changing over time in order to understand the interventions that make a difference in people’s lives.

Our most recent visit, to Des Moines, just blew me away. The richness of the conversations made me want to stay for another day (and the weather almost did). Someone brought up the importance of the “usability” of big data.  We need to collect it, share it, and use it. 

WOW! Just WOW!

To get an even better flavor of the dialogue so far, check out Storify summaries from Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Des Moines, and previous blog posts by Mike Painter, Susannah Fox, and Matthew Trujillo.

Our next stop is San Francisco on December 4. Please join us here for the live-stream and register at this link. We want to hear from you as well. Follow us on Twitter at #Data4Health, and please join the conversation. We are compiling all the information from the discussions; after the meetings, we will develop a report in collaboration with our expert committee, to be released by RWJF in Washington, D.C., in the spring. It is our hope that this report will lend voice to those who weren’t in attendance but have a lot to contribute, AND those who are in D.C. all the time. 

So I ask you, “What should using data to build a Culture of Health look like in the future? And how do we get there?”

The next step is yours.


Thu, 20 Nov 2014 15:47:00 -0500 Culture of Health Blog Team Health Data and IT <![CDATA[Our Focus Might Change, but We’re Still Guided by Our Research]]> slide_girl

There is change afoot at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as our entire organization reorients its focus to implementing our Culture of Health strategy. At the heart of this new approach is the belief that everyone—regardless of their ethnic, racial, geographic or socioeconomic circumstances—should have the means and the opportunity to lead the healthiest lives they can. Achieving a Culture of Health requires us to broaden the understanding that good health is far more than the absence of illness; where we work, where we live, what we eat, and where our children play and go to school fundamentally affect our ability to lead healthy lives.

Looking ahead, we see this new focus on building a Culture of Health as catalyzing a larger national movement toward real societal transformation—a chance to eliminate health disparities caused by social, environmental, and economic factors, and a powerful way to improve and advance public health. This is a big challenge for all of us, but there are significant pockets of progress around the country where a diverse range of activities is already driving such transformation.

Alonzo Plough Headshot Alonzo L. Plough VP, Research-Evaluation-Learning and Chief Science Officer

How do we plan on realizing these ambitious goals? It really comes down to continuing what RWJF has always done best: identify and support research that promotes progress in improving the health and well-being of our diverse populations. The Foundation has funded such research for more than 40 years, greatly contributing to a common understanding of the major health and health care issues of our time. That’s a legacy we’ll continue even as our research efforts focus more intently on understanding and realizing our vision, and finding the most effective ways to measure our progress. Our grant-making will always be grounded in sound research, good data, and strong evidence that informs the discussion and leads to a healthier nation.

As the vice president for Research and Evaluation and chief science officer, this heightened focus on research is especially gratifying to me. Although I am relatively new to the Foundation—I joined in January 2014—my staff and I have been fully engaging people both within and outside of our organization, in helping us shape the vision for RWJF’s extensive research and evaluation efforts across all areas of study.

As we continue to make these connections and work in tandem to achieve our strategic goals, I am excited to announce that significant funding will be available next year to pursue new research directions that can help us build and strengthen the evidence base. Specific research strategies will include exploring the most promising trans-disciplinary  approaches for advancing our strategy: identifying action–oriented research that can create real cultural change through engagement with key populations and sectors; and expanding and deepening our relationships with emerging research fields and experts not usually associated with health and health care. We will continue supporting ongoing RWJF work on issues that support our strategy.

Over the next few months, with your help, we will translate our strategic framework into a set of tangible measurements that resonate at all levels—from health professionals to community members to policymakers. To better prioritize our research we have identified four interrelated “Areas of Action” that will inform all future work at RWJF. If we can make strong progress in all of these domains, we believe we can move the needle further.

Areas of Action:

1) Building a Shared Value of Health

This Area of Action focuses on engaging communities, providers, and advocates in understanding social and economic determinants of health. When people join forces and place a high value on health they are more likely to demand health-affirming policies and practices. Many of our current partners and grantees are likely to find their work falls within this Area of Action, including Healthy Communities, providers, and organizations who are trying to reduce chronic illness in underserved communities, and advocates for local policy and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity.

2) Fostering Collaboration to Improve Well-Being

Let’s face it, the U.S. has some serious health issues, and we can’t rely on any one sector to solve them alone. Leaders across sectors, including health professions, academia, business, and government, must bring their skills to the table and work together to improve health in communities and across the nation.  In this Action Area, an activity might bring policymakers, school health officials, local businesses and parents together to achieve healthy weight for children. In others, employers and health insurers might team with community partners on wellness programs to improve both worker and broader community health.

3) Increasing Equity in Healthy Community Environments

Your ZIP code should not negatively determine your health status—nor should your race, income, or level of education. All residents deserve to live in neighborhoods that are safe and free from environmental threats. They should have access to nutritious and affordable food, recreational facilities, healthy school environments, and access to bike trails and sidewalks. This Area of Action focuses on interventions that promote health through equal access in all communities to activities and conditions that promote wellbeing where we live, work and play.

4) Re-Envisioning Health and Health Care

The current health care system remains too fragmented, too costly and too out of reach for too many people. This Action Area focuses on improving access to high-quality, effective, prevention-focused and affordable health care, for everyone around the country. Specific activities will include reducing overuse or misuse of services, increasing cost transparency, and improving care coordination and prevention strategies. Collaboration will be a key focus. For example, when providers are linked with community partners they can better address the complex health and socioeconomic factors affecting many lower-income people with chronic disease.

If this all sounds a bit formative and exploratory, I can assure you that over the next year or so we will share evidence from existing  innovative projects and research directions, and announce new research funding opportunities to further build the evidence base. We will launch robust measurement tools that can track our national progress in creating a Culture of Health in the spring of 2015 This blog will feature monthly posts that highlight key findings, activities and announcements to keep you up to date on this new direction and, encourage you to join the conversation.

We are very excited to be moving forward in the new direction and urge you to check back regularly for updates!

Wed, 19 Nov 2014 13:47:00 -0500 Alonzo L. Plough RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[What We Learned from the First Open Enrollment Period, and What to Expect from the Second]]>
A man fills out an insurance application

It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the victories from the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act. More than 8 million consumers signed up for coverage through state and federal marketplaces, and millions more enrolled in Medicaid.

As the spring of success gave way to the summer of planning, we are once again in the autumn of enrollment. As work gets rolling for the second open enrollment period, it is an opportune time to reflect on lessons learned from the first open enrollment period, especially since the second one is shorter and there are fewer navigator resources available from the federal government.

It Is Not Just One (Touch) and Done

We learned that many consumers needed multiple contacts and in-person help to get through the enrollment process. According to Enroll America’s State of Enrollment report, “With each contact from an Enroll America volunteer or staffer, consumers became more likely to successfully enroll.” They found this effect was particularly strong among African-American and Latino consumers.

Results from a survey conducted by PerryUndem found that while 52 percent of consumers enrolled online on their own, 20 percent got help on the phone and 18 percent got help in person. It is also important to note that Latinos were much more likely to rely on in-person help. Among Latinos who enrolled, 34 percent got in-person help. Every foundation will approach this work differently, but given the importance of multiple contacts with consumers, foundations may want to think about how to incorporate information about enrollment into multiple areas of work, so that they are consistently reinforcing the message.

"Never Put Off Until What May Be Done Day After Tomorrow Just As Well.”
 —Mark Twain

All of us procrastinate. It is a natural tendency. Last year, we saw huge upticks in enrollment numbers during the final few weeks of enrollment. While this is not shocking, it did take many groups in the field by surprise. Going forward, it is imperative that assisters and navigator organizations anticipate and prepare for a surge in demand around the end of the open enrollment period. Groups should also do what they can to head off or minimize procrastination. For example, they might get the word out to the eligible but unenrolled that if they wait too long, they might face longer wait times.

It Is the Messenger as Much as the Message

One of our key assumptions in making grants to support outreach, enrollment, and consumer assistance was that the best way to reach people is to partner with groups that are trusted and credible sources of information within their communities and that develop tailored, relevant, and engaging messages, materials, and approaches for the groups they are serving. Ensuring that consumers are hearing from trusted messengers means working together.

Across the country, we saw how successful enrollment efforts focused on collaboration among navigators; assister organizations; local grassroots organizations; and national groups like Enroll America, Community Catalyst, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of La Raza, Families USA, the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, and Young Invincibles, to name just a few. Furthermore, faith-based organizations, libraries, community colleges, sports teams, and retail stores were key partners. In New Jersey, the New Jersey Health Initiatives program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported veterans who were trained as assisters.

We can go on in listing myriad types of groups, both expected and unexpected, that had a hand in contributing to the great success of the first open enrollment period; ultimately, the lesson is to have a diverse set of groups on board so that consumers can hear from trusted messengers.

Coordinate, Do Not Dublicate

Another important lesson is the critical role of a statewide coalition where enrollment activities are coordinated within the state, as well as with national groups. Through our Consumer Voices for Coverage initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was able to support these coalitions in a dozen states, and many other funders also contributed to these statewide coordination efforts in these and other states.

Having this coordination function in place ensured that enrollment materials, best practices, and data were being shared, and also worked to make sure that gaps were filled. It also provided an important feedback loop between on-the-ground groups and policymakers. Coordinating bodies were able to collect information on how enrollment was going in their respective states and detect patterns of problems and then provide this information to policy-makers to help resolve issues that were identified. They were also in a position to see where things seemed to be going smoothly and share that information. Finally, they were able to play the connector role with national enrollment efforts, such as Enroll America. Community Catalyst’s report Connecting Consumers to Coverage: Mobilizing for Enrollment (2014) provides examples of how these coordinating tables operated in various states. States need to figure out what model will work best for them, but the key is to have a coordinating table.

"What Gets Measured Gets Managed.”
 —Peter Drucker

An important element of success was using data to target enrollment efforts and track results. In this case, many groups found that the most effective messages focused on individual financial concerns.

For example, Enroll America found that consumers were more likely to click on when they were presented digital tools like calculators that helped them get individualized information about coverage versus personal stories, and they found consumers who used these tools were more likely to be motivated to enroll than consumers who saw other messages. This was important information for tailoring their work and helped them devote resources to the most effective tools and messages.

Similarly, early research that PerryUndem conducted for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the most effective message was that financial help was available—a message that became very important for groups working on enrollment. The availability of financial help was the central theme of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s digital advertising, which steered targeted consumers to their marketplaces at an unusually high rate for a digital campaign. Without the research and monitoring to find this out, many groups may have wasted time and energy on messages and materials that were not very effective.

Expect Tough Customers in 2015

As this next open enrollment period begins, conventional wisdom is that 2015 may be more challenging than 2014 in some key ways. Those who were highly motivated to get health insurance (i.e., the low-hanging fruit) probably got it out of the gate in the first open enrollment period. Further, assisters this year will need to have an eye on enrollment, as well as on re-enrollment. New research from PerryUndem shows that many of the remaining uninsured may have looked for insurance during the last open enrollment period but found it was unaffordable. Convincing the remaining uninsured of the benefits of insurance compared to the penalty and risk of being uninsured may prove difficult.

Final Thought

The Affordable Care Act presents a tremendous opportunity for the nation to move toward a society where everyone has access to affordable, stable insurance. At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this is a longstanding goal and a key feature of what it means to build a Culture of Health in the United States. Last year we saw tremendous success in increasing the number of people in this country with health care coverage.

Armed with the lessons from last year, we know that the broad enrollment community, including grantmakers, is up for what may be a challenging second enrollment period. We look forward to continuing to share lessons and information as we go through this next period of work.

David Adler and Lori Grubstein are RWJF program officers. This post was originally published in Grantmakers in Health Views from the Field.

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 10:32:00 -0500 David Adler Health Insurance Exchanges Uninsured Individuals Medicaid and CHIP RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Putting the People in Data]]>
Data for Health Phoenix Photo

I recently had the privilege of attending the Data for Health listening sessions in Phoenix and Des Moines, initiatives that explore how data and information can be used to improve people’s heath. The key lesson I took away: We cannot forget about the human element when we think about health data and technology.

I have to be honest and admit that I attended these sessions with some admittedly naïve expectations. I half expected that the Des Moines airport would be in the middle of a corn field and that the conversation in the two sessions would focus on the technical side of health data – with people using terms like interoperability and de-identification. But I quickly learned that Des Moines is a flourishing city full of great running paths and people who are passionate about health data. The conversations in both cities actually focused not on the technical side of health data but rather on the human side.

While health data and technology are complex, the complexity of the the individuals and communities who generate and use them are far greater. At first glance, this human complexity may seem like the source of many health data problems but, as pointed out by the session attendees, it is actually the source of many health data solutions:


In a conversation in the Des Moines session about how to create incentives for individuals to provide health data, attendees stressed that one of the strongest leverages is the social incentive. Individuals will happily share data, they said, if we can get them to feel that the act of sharing their data brings them closer to others making them  part of a data-sharing community that includes their friends or family.

In Phoenix, attendees said that data is often not enough to lead to action. Most often, individuals have access to data but are at a loss as to what action to take or, even if they know the right action, lack sufficient motivation. One potential solution offered was to appeal to the human interest through narratives—using data to tell stories that both inform and motivate individuals to take action.

The listening sessions in Phoenix and Des Moines gave me a chance to leave my comfort zone and challenge my assumptions–both about health data and Iowa. I walk away from these sessions with a greater appreciation of the fact that health data does not exist in a social vacuum, and that behind each data point is a person.

Catch the live-stream on December 4th of our San Francisco event. Register here.  

Also, check out the Storify's we put together for both Phoenix and Des Moines where we’ve captured some of the conversations that took place online. 

Tue, 18 Nov 2014 08:00:00 -0500 Matthew Trujillo Health Data and IT Public and Community Health <![CDATA[Healthy Community Planning Means Healthier Neighbors]]> 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.

Helene Combs Dreiling Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA

What began as an effort to encourage healthy living surrounding a new health care center morphed into a 40- to 50-year plan for an entire neighborhood in southwest Detroit built around the idea of wellness. The center, 5716 Wellness, is housed in a historic Albert Kahn–designed cigar factory, and was redeveloped and designed by local nonprofit Southwest Solutions in partnership with Covenant Community Care.

The new center embodies health and wellness in its most direct form, providing medical, pediatric, obstetric, dental, psychiatric, pharmacy, and behavioral counseling services to primarily low-income clients, who often lack insurance. While it serves the medical needs of 8,000 to 10,000 patients each year, little was being done at first outside the facility to encourage a healthy lifestyle before or after treatment. Though architecture can inspire healthy choices within its walls, the two organizations soon realized that to truly foster better health, a wellness initiative would have to take shape on an urban planning scale.

They reached out to the DCDC design firm, affiliated with the University Of Detroit Mercy School Of Architecture. Their Wellness Center Campus Strategy would begin transforming southwest Detroit into a picture of better health—but first they had to determine what that picture would look like.

By talking to residents, business owners, and community organizations, DCDC discovered that a lack of access to healthy food options was a great barrier to wellness. In the city, increased urban agriculture was making local produce more available, but connecting local growers with communities that needed the food most remained difficult. To help bridge this divide, the center is taking advantage of almost 1,000 urban farms in Detroit, creating satellite branches of well-known markets and integrating walking paths and bike lanes throughout southwest Detroit for greater city access. These small but significant design changes are making physical activity easier and healthy lifestyles more accessible on a daily basis to residents.

Urban neighborhood wellness may sound complex, but intentional design choices to promote the ongoing wellness of a community before they have to come into a health clinic is crucial to rethinking preventive health. Working with architects who are able to integrate design thinking into community planning turns small choices into long-lasting health outcomes.

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, is president of the American Institute of Architects.


The American Public Health Association annual meeting, taking place this week in New Orleans, has as its theme “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being.” Follow our live coverage of APHA on our Twitter feed @RWJF_Live, join in the conversation using the hashtags #APHA14 and #CultureofHealth, and read a blog post by our own Linda Wright Moore. We will share original reporting of conference sessions, exclusive interviews with speakers and attendees, and up-to-the-minute information from New Orleans on Twitter.

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:44:00 -0500 Helene Combs Dreiling Built Environment and Health Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Public and Community Health Urban Michigan (MI) ENC Guest Posts <![CDATA[American Public Health Association Meeting: All About Where You Live]]> Commission NOLA built environement 4

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has long embraced the idea that advancing America’s health is a community affair. Much of our work—and our current vision for building a Culture of Health—is grounded on the basic premise that where we live, work, learn, and play is inextricably connected to our health and well-being.

Consider that life expectancy can differ by 25 years in neighborhoods just a few miles apart; that a ZIP code can determine rates of preventable disease, violence, and access to healthy food. With this in mind, RWJF supports a wide range of programs designed to foster healthy communities—including efforts to prevent obesity and chronic disease, reduce disparities in health and access to care, and improve early childhood development.

We recognize that the best strategies are driven by local data and address the unique challenges and characteristics of individual communities. We know that what works for Camden, N.J., might not fly in Minneapolis or Baltimore.

That’s why we are so thrilled that the American Public Health Association has chosen “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being” as the focus of its annual meeting. This mega-event—some 12,000 people attending nearly 1,000 sessions—takes place November 15-19 and offers researchers, clinicians, and anyone else with an interest in public health a complete immersion in the field.

For us at RWJF, having the APHA conference in New Orleans is especially gratifying. Last year RWJF chose the Big Easy as one of the winners of its inaugural Culture of Health Prize—recognition of the city’s innovative public health efforts.

I got to know New Orleans well during many visits while my daughter was an undergraduate at Tulane University’s school of public health. Over four years starting in 2009, we witnessed the city’s slow but steady recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Before the storm devastated the city in 2005, New Orleans’ approach to health was similar to many places across the country—focused more on clinical care than prevention and public health. Rebuilding the city gave leaders a chance to address long-standing public health problems such as obesity, chronic disease, violence, and the paucity of healthy food options.

The change is palpable. A community partnership joining the city’s health department, schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations has led to a revitalized East New Orleans—complete with a full-service hospital, 24-hour urgent care clinic, new athletic fields and a pool. Schools were reopened with a new focus on academic excellence along with better support for children’s health and wellness. Roads washed away by Katrina now boast bike lanes; miles of walking paths crisscross the city; and grocery stores stocked with fresh produce have sprung up in neighborhoods that were formerly food deserts. With these changes, and continuing efforts, New Orleans just might meet its goal of being one of America’s healthiest cities by 2018. The city certainly has the heart and resilience to get there.

The APHA’s “Healthography” theme underlies many other RWJF initiatives, particularly the work of the Commission to Build a Healthier America, a national, nonpartisan group of leaders convened from both the public and private sectors that generates and supports research focused on building healthier communities. Earlier this year the Commission made three recommendations for spending priorities and major new initiatives to improve the health of all Americans:

  • Increase access to early childhood development programs
  • Revitalize low-income neighborhoods
  • Broaden the mission of health care providers beyond medical treatment.

Working toward these ambitious goals will require a commitment to research, collaboration and bold new strategies for building healthier communities.

That’s where you come in. If you will be in New Orleans, stop by our booths—1236, 1238 and 1242—at the APHA conference. Don’t miss our "Briefings at the Booth" series, featuring mini-presentations and discussions by RWJF scholars and alumni. And check out our live coverage of APHA on our Twitter feed @RWJF_Live and join in the conversation using the hashtags #APHA14 and #CultureofHealth. We will share original reporting of conference sessions, exclusive interviews with speakers and attendees, and up-to-the-minute information from New Orleans on Twitter.

With your help, we can strive to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Fri, 14 Nov 2014 09:55:00 -0500 Linda Wright Moore Social Determinants of Health Health Disparities Public and Community Health RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Every Child Counts: Stopping Infant Loss]]> mother with son on her lap

“Matthew was born big and healthy, just under eight pounds,” Carol Jordan says.

That’s why it was such a shock to her to lose him on an otherwise average Sunday afternoon.

“We had just gotten home from church. My daughter Taylor and my other son Jacob settled in with their video games,” Carol recalls. “I breastfed Matthew and lay him down on his back in his bassinet. He was 3 and ½ months old. About 30 minutes later, I went to check on him. He was on his stomach and he was not breathing.”

Despite being overwhelmed by grief, Carol remembers, “I had two kids to take care of and that got me out of bed each day.” Matthew was a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a leading and little understood cause of infant mortality. With the love and support of family, friends, and First Candle, one of the largest SIDS support organizations in the country, the family slowly recovered.

A year after Matthew’s death, Carol gave birth to a daughter, Rachel, in 2002, whom she calls “my little gift,” but she continues to give back. In addition to holding an annual Matthew Jordan Golf Tournament near her Decatur, Ga., home, to benefit the CJ Foundation for SIDS, she is working to open a camp for children who have lost a sibling to SIDS.

Carol is one of the many African American women who disproportionately experience infant mortality—the loss of a child in the first year of life. When it comes to life-threatening pregnancy complications, infant mortality is one of three issues—including fetal mortality and low birth weight (LBW)—that are more likely to threaten the lives of African American, Hispanic, and Native American children than white babies.

A Quiet Crisis–Uncounted Losses

America's infant mortality rate is in fact high for all women; the US ranks 56th in the world, and the lowest of any wealthy nations. The rate among white women is 5.33 per 1,000 births. For African Americans, the rate is more than double that number at 12.40 per 1,000 births. Among Hispanics and Native Americans it is. 8.41 and 7.18 per 1,000, respectively.

Yet these statistics tell only part of the story. The rates for fetal mortality (the loss of a child after 20 weeks of pregnancy) are nearly as high for children from these communities of color, with 23 percent of the babies lost after the seventh month. Again, the rate among African American women is more than double that of white women; likewise, the rates are disproportionately high among Hispanic and Native American women.

Low birth weight (under 5.5 pounds) and very-low birth weight (under 3.4 pounds) is also disproportionately high among African American infants (13.4 percent and 2.9 percent) compared with 7.2 percent and 1.2 percent for white women.

If a child does survive being born underweight, he or she may face a lifetime of heightened health risks—including increased odds of respiratory, cardiac, and developmental problems in childhood, and possibly higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and joint disease in the knees and hips in adulthood.

My Baby Matters

As part of a national movement to find solutions for this persistent crisis in infant health, the documentary Surviving One Year focuses on the epicenter of America’s infant mortality crisis—Rochester, N.Y., the fifth poorest city in the country. In this community, children of color are three times more likely to die than white infants. The film, which will air on PBS, is part of the series America by the Numbers (check your local listings or the PBS website for broadcast times).

Poverty is at the root of the problem in Rochester, but when it comes to pregnancy complications in Black women, other issues are in play. College-educated African American women still have higher rates of preterm birth and LBW, for example.

Another important contributor to the infant mortality puzzle, says Joanne Cacciatore, PhD, and founder of the MISS Foundation, is the confusion surrounding fetal mortality.

“Fetal mortality is still a great mystery. We don’t exactly know the statistics because each state defines it differently,” she says.

Cacciatore and her colleagues explored issues such as the lack of attention to fetal mortality prevention in the Lancet series “Stillbirths: Why They Matter.” In some instances, she notes, “uninsured women, or women with poor coverage, for example, are allowed to go post-term because of the cost of caesarean delivery, but every day a woman carries past 41 weeks increases her chance of a stillbirth. There is also a tremendous lack of support for mothers who experience fetal loss at any point in a pregnancy.”

Myra Gomez knows the issue well. “One of my twins, Angela, passed away at 23 weeks. In order to protect Alessandra, her sister, I carried them both for 34 weeks. I delivered my sleeping baby and my survivor.”

Yet, says Gomez, who is Mexican and lives in Dallas, “we have a tradition, novenario, you mourn the dead for nine days, but for my baby, the period of mourning was only one day. People kept saying, ‘At least you had one twin,’” Gomez recalls. “But I am always going to be the mother of twin girls.” She was finally able to heal with support from MEND (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death).

Tia Jenkins was astonished by the reactions she encountered when she lost her first child after a full-term (38 week) pregnancy. “People around me kept saying `God does not make mistakes,’” Jenkins says, the anger still fresh in her voice after six years. “Tell me that when you have to buy a coffin the size of an ice cooler and put in the toys you bought for your newborn.”

Jenkins was also furious about the care she received. An African American woman who was 28 at the time, she was still at risk for preeclampsia. Yet when she started bleeding during her pregnancy and bloating from excessive fluid, her doctor said nothing was wrong. In fact, she gained only 11 pounds during her pregnancy and her son Adan was only four pounds at full-term delivery. She was determined not to try again.

“Instead, I got pregnant four months later, but this time I secured an appointment with a highly recommended African American woman obstetrician near my Atlanta home. It was a completely different experience.”

When Jenkins began experiencing complications during her second pregnancy, she was monitored bi-weekly instead of monthly, she received nutrition counseling, and was tested and found to have preeclampsia. She spent the last month of her pregnancy in the hospital. Her son Joshua was born healthy at full term, but also at a low birth weight—4.4 pounds.

“He spent 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, but today he’s a healthy 6-year-old.” Jenkins says, “I am grateful. I believe the second doctor’s care decisions saved my baby’s life.”

Working Toward Solutions

Improving quality of care may be one answer to helping at-risk infants, according to new research by Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, a professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Her work, supported by RWJF’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Research Initiative, revealed that the health of seven out of 10 very-low birth weight African American babies could be improved through nursing care.

Lake’s study adds to the growing knowledge that complex factors, including racism, stress, and inadequate social support, may contribute to the persistently high rates of infant mortality, LBW, and fetal mortality among African American, Hispanic and Native American children.

Sadly, there will always be a need for the work of such advocates as Jordan and organizations such as First Candle and MEND, but there is hope that through increased awareness and improved research, they will have far less work to do.

Thu, 13 Nov 2014 15:08:00 -0500 Sheree Crute Early Childhood Development Social Determinants of Health Family and Social Support Children (0-5 years) Black (incl. African American) Latino or Hispanic American Indian (incl. Alaska Native) Guest Posts <![CDATA[Transparency in Health Care? Sadly, That's Not How We Roll.]]>
Patrick Toussaint Andrea’s husband, Patrick Toussaint, using his super strength to tighten a lug nut.

What do changing a flat tire and scheduling a surgical procedure have in common? Nothing. And that’s the problem.

Last month, on our way home to New Jersey from Boston, my husband and I got a flat tire. And while this is a dreaded possibility on any road trip, it happened to us at 9 p.m. on a Sunday. No shops were open, and with an early morning flight just a few hours away we didn’t have time to wait for AAA.

At this point it’s important to emphasize that neither my husband nor I know a thing about cars. We didn’t even know we had a jack or spare in the trunk until we called my uncle, who teased us (“You have a new car! Everything you need is in the back!”) and gave us the pep talk we needed. So we pulled out our owner’s manual.

I’m not sure who that manual is written for, but it clearly isn’t for us. After five minutes of thinking I’d need to call the airline and book a later flight, I realized: There is a better way. I pulled out my iPhone, Googled “how to change a flat tire,” and called up a YouTube video and a step-by-step, picture-guided Wikihow article. Within 20 minutes, the tire was changed, our spare was filled with air to 60 psi, and we were on our way.

So what does any of this have to do with health care? Unfortunately, not very much.

Unlike the confusion most consumers face with when trying to find the right clinician, choose the right procedure, or figure out how much something is going to cost, I didn’t have to rely on the technical status quo. I didn’t have to depend on indecipherable instructions from my owner’s manual. There was accessible and immediately meaningful information out there, and I knew how to get it, right when I wanted it, in the format most actionable for me. And most important, I knew that I could trust the information.

I used this example in a keynote address I delivered on health care transparency at a Carolinas Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development conference last month, because it was such a powerful illustration of an alternative most people don’t have in health care. But that’s going to have to change. Increasing high out-of-pocket expenses for consumers (a third of all large employers are only going to offer high-deductible plans next year), shifting financial risks to providers, and narrow networks with limited provider choice, are all driving the need for greater information. Demographic changes are also shifting expectations. Can you imagine your 14-year-old niece being told she can’t make a doctor’s appointment on her iPhone, or find out how much something is going to cost her when she has to pay for it? Yeah. Neither can I. More and more, people are going to demand transparent and meaningful health care information that can help them make the best choices.

At the conference I discussed how health care transparency empowers not only consumers, but clinicians. They can use that knowledge to improve their performance, make better treatment and ordering decisions, and better referrals. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is currently funding a set of studies that will help us better understand how greater transparency in prices impacts different consumer and provider decisions. We’ll soon embark on identifying especially opportune “shoppable moments”—when people are most likely to seek out and use information to make health care decisions.

During my talk, I also focused on how transparency has the tremendous power to elevate an issue, much as the Dartmouth Atlas does with practice pattern variation, or County Health Rankings does with the factors that influence health within a community.

And finally, I talked about how empowering it is to have access to meaningful information. Let’s go back to my flat tire experience: My husband and I felt so good about what we accomplished in Connecticut that night that we posted about it on Facebook (the picture you see here is what we shared with our friends of family). Since then, we’ve felt indestructible when it comes to our car. We even changed our tail light bulb ourselves when it went out the next week—which might not sound like a lot, but it was a pretty big deal to us. And it was the direct result of our empowering experience with good and reliable information, and knowing we could successfully act on it.

In March, RWJF will host a summit on transparency that will explore many of these themes. At that summit, we’ll also discuss policy priorities and innovations in transparency.

Why are we supporting these efforts to make health care more transparent?

In addition to supporting information exchange for its own benefit, earlier this year we announced our new vision for a Culture of Health, which imagines a world in which everyone in this country has the opportunity to live the healthiest life they can. Resources, knowledge, and information are a big part of that opportunity. So is living in a world where health care prices and spending aren’t unjustly burdensome and where people are getting the care they need, both of which are served through more transparent systems.

We believe that in a Culture of Health, the healthiest choices should be the easiest choices. That means not only giving people the opportunity and the information they need to make the best decisions, but making sure that information is tailored, delivered at the right time, when people want it and are able to use it. That way, whether people are looking for routine health care, or are at their most vulnerable, they can take comfort in knowing they don’t have to rely on an indecipherable owner’s manual.

Fri, 7 Nov 2014 15:13:00 -0500 Andrea Ducas Health Care Costs Health Care Quality RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Babies are Dying in Rochester at Twice the National Average. Why?]]> America by the Numbers series on Infant Mortality Photo by: Paul de Lumen.

Rochester, N.Y., is the birthplace of Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, and Kodak, and home to two top-ranked research institutions, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. Nevertheless, babies die in this upstate New York city at a rate two times higher than the national average, and Rochester’s children of color are three times more likely than white infants to die before their first birthday. Why?

To come up with some answers, Futuro visited Rochester as part of its America by the Numbers series, made in partnership with Boston public TV station WGBH (check your local PBS and World Channel listings to see the series). We went knowing that the U.S. as a whole ranks 56th in the world for infant mortality, by far the lowest of any industrialized nation, despite the fact that we spend more on health care per capita than any other country, and the largest portion goes towards pregnancy and childbirth. This makes Rochester’s statistics even more tragic—an outlier in an outlier.

The overriding issue for the city’s dismal infant mortality rate is poverty. It is the fifth poorest city in the nation; 31.1 percent of Rochester’s residents live below the poverty level. The Latino and African-American populations that make up some 24 percent of the city’s population have it particularly hard, with 36 percent of African-Americans and 46 percent of Latino residents living in poverty. Poverty means chronic stress, poor nutrition and lack of access to good medical care—all high risk factors for infant mortality.

Yolanda Sayres, an outreach coordinator for the Perinatal Network of Monroe County, where Rochester is located, spends a lot of time in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods, and says at least half of the people she meets know someone who has lost a baby. Sasha Fontanez is just one of these too many tragic stories. She had her first child when she was 18, a healthy girl. But her second daughter, nicknamed Annie Bannie, died in her sleep less than four months after she was born.

Annie was one of 1,700 annual U.S. victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS—a catchall term for unexplained crib deaths of babies who are under 1 year of age. Still struggling to cope with this sudden and tragic loss, Sasha says she is constantly anxious about the health of her remaining family members. “I don’t sleep. I watch everybody in the house sleep, make sure everybody is breathing.”

The result of our investigation is the documentary “Surviving Year One.”  I will be hosting a screening of “Surviving Year One” in Rochester on November 13 at 6:30 p.m., followed by panel discussions with several of the people featured in the documentary, including Yolanda Sayres and Sasha Fontanez, and Jeff Kaczorowski, MD, founder of the Rochester-based non-profit The Children’s Agenda. We will discuss not just Rochester’s infant mortality problem, but some of the solutions being applied.

The screening is free and open to the public and is being presented in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and WXXI, Rochester’s public TV station. I hope the program leads to a nationwide dialogue that will lead to a change in this particular American number. To get the conversation started, please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Futuro Media Group is an independent nonprofit organization producing multimedia journalism that explores and gives a critical voice to the diversity of the American experience. Based in Harlem and founded in 2010 by award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, Futuro Media Group is committed to telling stories often overlooked by mainstream media.

Find more information at

Fri, 7 Nov 2014 11:13:00 -0500 Maria Hinojosa Early Childhood Development Family and Social Support Social Determinants of Health Children (0-5 years) Urban Black (incl. African American) Latino or Hispanic New York (NY) MA Guest Posts <![CDATA[Big (Box) Medicine?]]>
Lucy in the chocolate factory

Let’s see a show of hands. Who among us, doctor, nurse, patient, family member, wants to give or get health care inspired by a factory—Cheesecake or any other?


I didn’t think so.

True confession: I have never actually eaten at a Cheesecake Factory (hereinafter referred to as the Factory). My wife, Mary, and I did enter one once. We were returning from a summer driving vacation. Dinnertime arrived, and we found ourselves at a mall walking into a busy Factory.

It seemed popular. The wait was long—really long. We got our light-up-wait-for-your-table device. We perused the menu. There was a lot there. Portions seemed gigantic. We looked at each other and, almost without speaking, walked back to the hostess, returned our waiting device and left.

You got me—I cannot say 100 percent that I wouldn’t love Factory food. We were so close that one time!

A young woman in our small New Jersey town recently opened a new restaurant here. We tried it the other night. She and her business partner tended us and all the other patrons with such attention and care. We waited some, true, but she seated us near the bar while we waited and brought over pieces of cheese (no light-up device) for us to enjoy. The menu was ample and varied—not enormous. It’s also true that two items on the menu—including my first choice—were no longer available that evening. The chef, however, crafted the dishes that we did select with flare and pride. Dinner was a delicious, wonderful, relaxing experience, made better because of the human touch.

It’s probably not fair to contrast my one near-Factory dining experience with this other. Big chain restaurants have clearly figured out a way to provide a consistent meal for millions of satisfied customers. But the Factory way is not for everyone. People, I think, crave customized, attention-to-detail service experiences in their dining choices. And—I’ll go out on a limb—in their health care too.

Urban Institute fellow and renowned health care expert Robert Berenson MD recently interviewed Atul Gawande MD, The New Yorker writer, for an Urban Institute/RWJF brief, “Is Bigger Better? The Implications of Health Care Provider Consolidation.”Atul is an enthusiastic soothsayer for what he sees as the coming era of big medicine. In his popular New Yorker article published two years ago, “Big Med,” Atul cast his bright light on the virtues of the Factory as a model for health care. In this latest interview, Atul continues to carry the Factory flag. He observes that two years hence, we now have about 90 super-regional medical centers across the nation. These centers bristle, he says, with advantages like information systems and access to standardized measurement and improvement approaches—not bad things, of course. In the interview he also notes that “[w]e’re in the process of shifting from what I call ‘cowboys’ to ‘pit crews’ in medicine ...”

Hard to disagree that a shift to smart team-based care is a strong positive. The lone, isolated, unconnected physician working on his or her own providing care based on what he or she learned years prior, in school or in residency, is, thankfully, rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Still, these are our choices? Lone, isolated, ill-informed cowboy-on-the-range care versus Factory care? I think there’s almost certainly another way.

I definitely get it. The Factory ideal is enticing. It’s a successful vision imported from the Industrial Age—i.e., the 20th century. But—brace yourselves—we are no longer in that century or age. We’re in a new one—a new machine age.

Think, for instance, about the waves disrupting or wiping away industries—cloud computing, disintermediation (e.g., video), unbundling of services (e.g., music, newspapers), the sharing economy (e.g., Uber, airbnb), new networking organizational approaches, democratization of knowledge (e.g., Khan Academy).

Consider the potential for customized care with predictive analytics, the range of new -omics data and the proliferation of health data from ever more sophisticated devices—not to mention the emerging power of DIY care from those same devices. Don’t forget the coming cognitive agents and artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing. Incidentally, we’re just starting up the Moore’s Law-driven escalation.

The opportunities of our new age open novel ways, I believe, to improve care. We can create vibrant, joyful, human care relationships in small, intimate, connected settings, that also deliver informed, smart cutting-edge treatment when, where, and how people want it. One key aspect of our new age tools: They proliferate and get cheaper and better, year after year. That means that most of the exotic soon becomes commonplace. It may be ironic, but our new machine age is going to free us to reclaim our humanity. I fervently believe that.

At RWJF we are working on a range of projects exploring this sort of vision. Perhaps the most obvious is Flip the Clinic—essentially the anti-Factory. There, we’re inviting human beings to come together and explore what it might be like to co-create new caring relationships (not factories) fitting for the new age.

I understand. Many may find the Factory approach suitable, even desirable. That’s OK—the door for that is swinging wide open over there. If, however, you hunger for another way, you are not alone! Granted, the door this way is still a little hidden—you have to look for it a bit—but trust me, it’s there, and it’s big.

Thu, 6 Nov 2014 16:55:00 -0500 Mike Painter Health Care Quality Patient-Centered Care RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Five Takeaways from National Forum on Hospitals, Health Systems and Population Health]]>
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center photo

The new faces of population health may be those of Annika Archie, Vernita Frasier, Pecola Blackburn, and Mary Dendy (shown in the photo on the right). They were once part of the cleaning crew at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, but their jobs were cut when the hospital outsourced those services to save money. But thanks to a creative initiative on the part of the hospital, they now they have new roles as “Supporters of Health,” serving the hospital’s uninsured, chronically ill patients in proactive ways.

Having come from similar circumstances as their patients, the four women help them cope with a range of needs–from understanding how to take their medications to getting assistance to pay their rent. In just a few months, the supporters helped cut hospital readmission rates for these patients to 2.5 percent, says Gary Gunderson, vice president of faith and health ministries at Wake Forest Baptist. “We gave them training as community health workers,” says Gunderson, “but it was sort of like just giving them a baseball hat”–a formality to acknowledge new roles that they had long played informally.

The story of the North Carolina health supporters was just one of many featured at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-sponsored National Forum on Hospitals, Health Systems and Population Health, held Oct. 22-24 in in Washington, D.C. They underscored how institutions across the country are adopting novel approaches to advance population health, and led to five key takeaways:

1) Many of the nation’s hospitals and health systems fully understand that the most important preconditions of health lie outside their walls. The “dominant story” in the US may be that health is created by the health care system, but dozens of institutions are now “rewriting the narrative,” said Jean Ayres, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. They are asking what they can do about the many factors outside the clinic that impact health–income, housing, education, community safety, and food security, among others, and they are embracing the World Health Organization definition of health–“the complete physical mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”

A case in point: Promedica, a 13-hospital system in Ohio and Michigan, concluded that “if we couldn’t address social determinants in our communities, we were missing the ball with respect to our mission,” President and CEO Randy Oostra told the conference. Through community health needs assessments required by the Affordable Care Act, the system identified child obesity and food insecurity as issues affecting the regional population, and went to work tackling them. A partnership with a casino now delivers unused food to local food pantries, and Promedica doctors can write “prescriptions” for nutritious food, filled onsite in new “food pharmacies.”  “The pitch we made to our [hospital] board members was, ‘If not us, who is going to do it?’” Oostra said.

2)  The pursuit of population health should begin with a health system’s own workforce. Since hospitals are often among the largest employers in any community, “an honest look” at their staff will raise obvious questions about whether conditions in the community are supporting health, said Raymond Baxter, Kaiser Permanente’s senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. Hospital leaders must create “a culture of health within their walls before they expand outside their walls,” argued John Bluford, former President and CEO of Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, MO.

Bluford described Truman’s effort to address a key social determinant of health–education–by creating partnerships with local colleges and universities to offer onsite education and degree programs for hospital employees. One employee, a man in his 50s who had worked at the hospital for three decades, finally learned to read through one of the courses. “To see him get up in front of an audience of his peers and tell them, ‘Last week, I read a birthday card to my grandchild,’ was moving,” Bluford said.

3) To pursue population health outside their walls, hospitals and health systems need partners -– other local hospitals and health care providers, health plans, public health agencies, housing authorities, and community organizations. Hospitals in Santa Cruz County, California, for example, banded together to undertake joint assessments of local community health needs. Others have joined forces with public health agencies to carry out complementary assessments. The next step, said Kimberlydawn Wisdom, Senior Vice President of Community Health & Equity and Chief Wellness Officer at Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, should be that hospitals in a given area join forces to adopt and implement common community health improvement plans.

In the meantime, hospitals can learn from one another through collaboratives such as Stakeholder Health, a national group whose 90 members, including 52 hospitals and health systems, hold monthly webinars to share success stories and best practices.

4) New payment models to support population health approaches are evolving, “more rapidly than people realize,” said Patrick Conway, Chief Medical Officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These new payment structures should eventually supplant the need for federal, state, and philanthropic grants used by many health systems now to pay for population health measures.  

Delaware-based Nemours Children’s Health System demonstrates the problem of relying on grants. The experience of Nemours demonstrates the need for a sustainable long-term payment model beyond time limited grants. The system's efforts to reduce avoidable hospital care for children with asthma, carried out under a federal grant, has led to reductions in revenue. “As a business executive, it puts me in a quandary,” said David Bailey, Nemours president and CEO. “I’m going to have to fill in the [lost revenue] from someplace. Do I take it from bone marrow transplants? Behavioral health? We’re going to have to work very hard to move reimbursement to allow for these new approaches, and still keep our doors open.”

The conference featured plenty of new approaches, however. Under a newly-revised federal Medicare waiver granted to Maryland–a pioneer in developing new payment models–the state’s hospitals largely operate under population-based payments, giving them incentives to keep people healthy and out of the hospital. New York has a new Medicaid waiver that encourages the formation of combined health care and social services organizations, such as hospitals and agencies providing supportive housing for people with mental illness. They “agree to take risk together, almost like an accountable care community,” said Mary Ann Christopher, President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

The federal government will roll out new payment models and financial incentives for population health in the coming year, including a “next generation” accountable care organization model that would support creation of  “accountable health communities” not unlike what is under way in New York.

5) The need to embrace and spread population health is urgent. “The major natural resource of our nation is the health of its people,” acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak told the conference–and by almost any measure, that resource is being depleted. But if the nation works diligently to improve the health of children, “within a generation you would begin to see health care costs become half of what they are now,” said Nemours’ Bailey.

“We are all mission-driven organizations,” Baxter of Kaiser Permanente said. “There is a powerful role now to work with other like minded organizations to move the field toward this change.”

To join in this conversation, watch the RWJF First Friday Google+ Hangout recapping highlights of the population health conference on Friday, November 7, from 12 pm to 1 pm EST. Sign up here

Wed, 5 Nov 2014 14:08:00 -0500 Susan Dentzer Public and Community Health Blog - Culture of Health <![CDATA[Data for Health: Learning What Works for Philadelphia]]> Philadelphia City Hall
Susannah Fox

The day was also captured in a Storify: #Data4Health: Learning What Works for Philadelphia

Once again I was struck by how wide open the definition of “data” can be. I shared the following data points, based on a Pew Research study I led:

  • 7 in 10 U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or someone else.
  • Half track regularly, half track when something comes up.
  • Technology plays a minor role — about 1 in 5 trackers use a medical device, an app, or any other digital tool.
  • 1 in 3 trackers uses paper and pencil to take notes.
  • Fully half of trackers say they do so in their heads (and that includes me).
  • 1 in 3 trackers share their data with family members or clinicians, but many do not. They are asking secret questions and we must not only respect that, but build it into our planning.
  • 45% of U.S. adults live with a chronic health condition; of those, 8 in 10 track some aspect of health.
  • Tracking data is not a hobby for this group, but rather a way to see themselves more clearly. This might be true of public health in general—data is a mirror we try to use to make good decisions, based on facts.

In a break-out session, people shared how they track their health:

  • A man who commutes by bike said he notices how he can take a certain hill so much faster at the end of the summer than in the spring, after a full season of training.
  • A woman tracks how many times per week she cooks at home vs. eating take-out or going to restaurants—a proxy for good nutrition without all the annoying calorie-counting or photo-taking.
  • A man tracks how many hours of sleep he gets per night.
  • A woman noted that tracking can have negative effects, such as weight obsession.
  • A man starts each day with a list of what he enjoys, sort of a spiritual check-in about being grateful. (I would have loved to hear more about this. I wonder if the list is longer on some days and if he tracks that or takes any action.)
  • A woman noted that caregivers often track more diligently for a loved one than for themselves. “Being aware, you help the other person.”
  • Someone responded with a comment: “Caregivers see the data disconnects that clinicians and public health workers cannot. How might we tap into that knowledge?”
  • A third person spoke up: “My mother carefully tracked my grandmother’s health and, when she died, my mom was left with notebooks of data—the narrative arc of her illness, which could inform other people’s health journeys. Mom was left wondering what to do and thought about volunteering at a local senior center, accompanying older people to their medical appointments since she had developed that unique skill set.”
  • A woman noted that trauma often triggers note-taking as a coping mechanism.
  • A man said that he wishes we could collect data about people we *don’t* see in clinic. Where else are they? How can we measure something that is not there? What proxy measures can we use?
  • A woman noted that mental health data is a challenge. What measures are useful?

My favorite insight of the day came from someone who, when discussing who should be part of the design process for health data systems, said that front desk workers are the ones who know the community best.

For example, if it is determined that a patient needs nutritional counseling (based on their data, let’s say), the front desk worker (not the MD or RN) will be able to say to that person: “To get to the nutrition counselor’s clinic, don’t take the 22, take the Broad Street line.” (Translation: they’ll know the city—particularly the public transportation options—better than the executives will. And that’s where the rubber hits the road, when the health data meets community data, such as traffic patterns and bus lines.)

If this quick summary intrigues you, stay tuned to the #data4health tweets and see if you can join an upcoming meeting in Phoenix, Arizona; Des Moines, Iowa; San Francisco; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Wed, 5 Nov 2014 12:37:00 -0500 Susannah Fox Health Data and IT Public and Community Health Blog - Culture of Health <![CDATA[Bringing Brain Science to the Front Lines of Care]]>

The brain is an exquisitely sensitive organ—so sensitive that, as recent advances in brain science show us, children who are exposed to violence, abuse, or extreme poverty can suffer the aftereffects well into adulthood. They are more likely to develop cancer or heart disease as they age, for example.

But how to translate these findings into practices and policies that can strengthen families and children? How do caregivers help traumatized children and their families cope with adversity? How can the science be applied to what teachers, doctors, social workers, and others on the front lines do every day? And how should the science affect whole systems, so that every person, at every level, can do their part to help children and families thrive?

To answer those questions, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has formed a new partnership with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Canada’s Norlien Foundation. RWJF will invest $1.7 million to help 10 U.S. and five Canadian agencies use the science of trauma and resilience to transform the way they deliver services to families.

The partnership will look closely to see how transformation takes place across a single agency, from the CEO to the front desk employee, and we will document how these changes can affect a whole community—the practice, policy, regulatory and fiscal structures that need to change.  The grant will also enable the cohort of 15 agencies to learn from each other and share findings across the Alliance’s network—more than 400 nonprofits spanning 8,000 communities.

We hope to uncover any policies that serve as barriers to using brain science effectively on the front lines of care. For example, the science tells us that parent-child bonds are vital to building resiliency in young brains. It’s why so many of the most effective strategies treat parents and children together. Such strategies require time for communication and counseling, time that is often reimbursed poorly by insurance companies, if at all. This creates a huge financial disincentive, preventing doctors from taking the time needed to address such issues in depth during office visits. That’s a policy that needs fixing.

This project will help us locate existing policies that limit impact. It will guide where we focus our policy efforts moving forward. In fact, by having participants in Canada and the U.S., we will be able to see first-hand how different policy conditions affect this work.

How often have you heard, when someone wants to make a point that a particular topic or task is easy, say, “It’s not brain science.” In fact, if we are going to realize our full potential to save lives and strengthen families, we need to make brain science easy as well. We believe this partnership is a good start.

Tue, 4 Nov 2014 17:34:00 -0500 Martha Davis Violence and Trauma Early Childhood Development Children (0-5 years) RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[What Baltimore Taught Us: On a Journey to Strengthen Families]]> young mother with her children

Recently a team from the Foundation went to Baltimore to talk to families and community leaders, gaining their insights into an essential question for us: What can the Foundation do to strengthen the systems—health care, education, community—to create a web of support for families, one in which those at greatest risk can’t easily fall through?

What follows are my colleagues’ reflections on our time in Baltimore.

Martha Davis: I spoke with a Violence Interruptor, a Safe Streets employee who works to stop street violence. He is a 37-year-old man who has spent nearly half his life in jail, and has been shot 14 times. When I asked him how it is that he got to where he is today, he told me he came to the streets to learn how to “be a man,” but the birth of his children inspired him to want to be on the “side of peace." His was a life of violence and suffering, deep poverty, and racism; now he makes people feel safe and hopeful. He and the other Violence Interruptors are living proof that change is possible.

Tara Oakman: We talk a lot about needing to meet people where they are. Realistically, that means meeting people where they live because the most vulnerable families aren’t necessarily coming into the health care space or schools or child care centers. Their lives are too overwhelming and stressful to reliably engage with these systems, even though they are there to help. The stories we heard and people we met will help us with “gut checks” as we work on future programming; we will return to the question, “how would this work for the people we met in Baltimore?”

Jennifer Ng’andu: Making sure our strategies are focused on people—not systems or issues—feels like the most important thing to keep in mind as we work towards strengthening families. We heard from several people that interpersonal relationships were the foundation of strong programs, but it was also clear how hard it is to find time to make those relationships happen. When asked what resources would help, most people said they needed time, not money—the time to be strategic, the time to collaborate, and the time to take care of issues in a comprehensive way. It made me think our work needs to help communities recognize their agency, foster coalition building, and allow folks to come together to strategize and aggregate their power.

Paul Cheh: One of the most striking takeaways for me was the issue around isolation. Many people felt an overwhelming sense of isolation not only within their community, but with the rest of society. But we saw wonderful programs that addressed this problem. It was inspiring to see the deep sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that some programs, like Elev8 and Safe Streets provided. I left thinking about how the Foundation could address isolation, whether through continued advocacy for vulnerable populations, through community outreach and capacity building, or through the design and support of safe spaces for communities to meet, discuss, and inspire change.

Sadia Kalam: From the Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland School of Law, I learned how both parents and children bring trauma into the school system. Many parents have negative associations with school themselves; and teachers and administrators can carry feelings of distrust for parents. Helping students, parents, and administrators learn to talk through conflict, build trusting relationships, improve communication—all are steps towards alleviating the multiple layers of trauma embedded within existing systems.

Here at RWJF we will continue to engage with communities throughout the United States and explore new possibilities to mitigate violence and its toxic effects. We plan to work with families most vulnerable to trauma, while advancing research-driven ideas so that all families can benefit and live healthy lives.

I hope you’ll join us on this journey. Together, we can build a Culture of Health for all.

Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:12:00 -0400 Kristin Schubert Family and Social Support Urban Maryland (MD) SA Massachusetts (MA) NE RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Mental Health Challenges of Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath]]> Hurricane Sandy - Shore Tour Driftwood Cabana Club, Sea Bright, N.J.

On her 90th birthday, instead of celebrating, Dottie (whose last name is withheld for privacy) lost her home in Superstorm Sandy. Two years later, she is still displaced, living in temporary rentals.

Dottie’s nephew is trying to change that. He’s been rebuilding Dottie's home. Like so many New Jersey residents, he says he’s going to keep at it until reconstruction is complete. Meanwhile, he’s getting some much needed support from groups like BrigStrong, the County Long Term Recovery Group, and the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ).

It’s been two long years since Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey on October 29, 2012. As a mental health worker, I still see the aftereffects firsthand.

For the past two years, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ), along with other local groups, has been on the front lines of the battle to maintain the mental health of Jersey Shore residents. Thanks to a major RWJF grant, MHANJ has been able to leave the county in a better position to deal with the next disaster:

  • We’ve given mental health first aid training to city employees who, in their daily work, encounter community members with mental health issues.
  • Through our Certified Recovery Support Practitioner program, we’ve improved our ability to reach out to the most vulnerable. Many community members certified through the program have faced mental health challenges themselves, which only increases their credibility.
  • We counseled populations with mental health issues on how to safely evacuate or shelter in place, thus ensuring that first responders will be safer in future emergencies.
Vicki Philips Vicky Phillips, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County, N.J.

RWJF’s grant will continue to be crucial in carrying these initiatives forward. Even today, Atlantic County urgently needs our mental health services.

While acute conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have been the focus of much of the public conversation around Sandy and mental health, the aftermath also proved uniquely challenging for people who had difficulties before the storm. For many such people, Sandy raised the stakes by putting their basic physical safety at risk. For people whose mental health was otherwise sound before Sandy, the long wait for reliefncontinues to cause unbelievable frustration, anger, and anxiety.

Another story that stands out for me involves two adult sisters who refused to leave a badly damaged home, even after their elderly parents moved out. The sisters had not left their home in 13 years. When my colleagues and I visited, the house was wet and moldy. The sofa sat soaking in the living room and pets were suffering from skin conditions attributed to bacteria. The sisters had gotten along relatively well before Sandy. After the storm, however, staying in the damaged house was downright dangerous. The home was cleaned early on, but the sisters are still waiting for funds to move forward with repairs. We are working closely with one of the sisters, who has a fear of leaving the house.

Nearby, Dottie’s nephew has made sure his aunt can still do one thing she loves: garden. The spring after Sandy he cleared a small plot in her storm-damaged yard. Last week she brought our staff a box of the season’s last tomatoes. Her nephew promises to have her back in her home by Christmas.

Even as we look forward to many more happy homecomings in Atlantic County, people are still struggling. To them we say:

  • Be patient with yourself and the emotional challenges you face
  • Talk with others about your experience
  • Seek support groups
  • Eat well, exercise, and beat stress with healthy behaviors
  • Find support in the community

The last tip is key. We’re all in this together, and finding strength in one another is something we can all do to speed physical and mental recovery.

Learn more about New Jersey Initiatives.

Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:31:00 -0400 Vicki Philips Mental and Emotional Well-Being Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Care Workforce New Jersey (NJ) NJ National <![CDATA[“Tobacco Just Doesn’t Fit In:” CVS Exec Gives Story Behind the Story]]> CVS Ready to Quit sign inside pharmacy store

Along with the start of CVS Health, the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy ends today. By eliminating cigarettes and tobacco products from sale in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans.”—CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo

On October 20, The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids launched a national campaign calling on America’s retailers to stop selling tobacco products, and a new mobile-friendly website——that has an interactive map that allows consumers to search for the nearest tobacco-free retailers. The website currently features more than 20 retail chains with more than 13,000 separate store locations—chief among them CVS Health.

On September 3, CVS ended sales of tobacco products at all of its 7,700 stores, a month ahead of its previously targeted date of October 1. It is the first, and so far the only, national pharmacy chain to take this step. The company also changed its corporate name to CVS Health in order to reinforce its broader commitment to the health of its customers.

RWJF applauds CVS’s actions wholeheartedly—indeed, we collaborated with CVS on the initial announcement back in February that it would end the sale of tobacco products. So we asked CVS Health executive VP and chief medical officer Troy Brennan MD, to tell us the story behind the story. Just how do you get a publicly traded company to sacrifice some $2 billion in annual sales?

RWJF: What was the impetus for the decision to end the sale of tobacco products?

Troy Brennan: In many ways we are building a Culture of Health, just like you. Health is the most important thing in terms of what we do for our customers, who are often also our patients. We like to say that health is the prism through which we see all the work that we do—and tobacco just doesn’t fit in.

RWJF: When did CVS first start considering an end to tobacco sales?

TB: The appropriateness of selling cigarettes in pharmacies is not a new issue. The American Pharmacists Association has for years said that it was unethical to sell tobacco products in a pharmacy. I’ve been vocal about it and a number of people in the company, especially our CEO, agreed that as we started thinking of ourselves more and more as a health care company, we needed to end tobacco sales. In terms of the products we sold, tobacco was the number one threat to the health of consumers.

CVS Health executive VP and chief medical officer Troy Brennan MD Troy Brennan MD, CVS Health executive VP and chief medical officer

RWJF: Was there much pushback from within the organization?

TB: It was not an easy decision for anyone, based both on the revenue loss as well as the thinking that smokers would just buy their cigarettes elsewhere—which made us wonder whether our action would have an impact. We now have data that indicates that removing tobacco products from retailers with pharmacies will lead to substantially lower rates of smoking, with implications for reducing tobacco-related deaths. That’s been very gratifying to know that our decision can make a difference in people’s lives.

The response we received from our pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) clients was also gratifying. Our leadership got tremendous feedback, with clients saying that our decision to quit selling tobacco really does ‘tip the scales’ in their eyes in terms of what kind of company we are—a health care company.

It was also very gratifying to see how excited our colleagues were in the stores. It really had an important effect overall on company morale.

RWJF: Was it difficult to convince the board of directors and investors?

TB: Our Board of Directors was critical in making this decision and they were extremely involved and supportive. Everyone agreed that this was the right time for us to make this decision as a company—both strategically and financially. The analysts who follow us agreed and understood why we made this choice.

RWJF: How did you go about putting the plan into place?

TB: There was a whole logistical plan that went into operationalizing our exit from tobacco. We had to wind down inventory, starting with the February announcement and culminating Labor Day weekend. Lots of credit goes to our CEO Larry Merlo for his leadership as well as to Helena Foulkes, who is the president of CVS/pharmacy.

Helena was central to helping the organization understand the importance of making this decision as a health care company. She was also able to drive and inspire the front store team to get this job done quickly, and they did it in a seamless fashion.

RWJF: How were you able to beat your original timetable by a month?

TB: Once we decided to get it done, things moved very fast. Overall we felt like we could get it done sooner than October 1.

RWJF: How do you respond to criticism that the CVS stores continue to sell unhealthy snack foods and soda?

TB: None of those products have the same caliber of harm as tobacco. There is no such thing as "moderate use" of tobacco products.

RWJF: Why change your name to CVS Health?

TB: There has been tremendous positive feedback for the name change—nearly 100 percent. It’s helping to change our image to be both an innovative and caring company that is helping people on their path to better health. Our new name is a reminder of that.

RWJF: What changes do you see in the next few years for CVS Health?

TB: The pharmacy’s role is really changing. In the past, the major integrated academic medical centers had their own pharmacies. Now, we have affiliations with more than 40 major medical centers to work together as pharmacies and retail clinics play an expanded role as part of the health care team. We want to be active in the changing health care landscape and we’ve been developing comprehensive programs to do that.

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:01:00 -0400 Catherine Arnst Tobacco Control RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Global Health in a Time of Ebola]]> Nelson Mandela's cell on Robbens Island Nelson Mandela's cell on Robbens Island (photo by Paul Kuehnert)

I returned from Cape Town, South Africa a week ago and want to share some reflections on my trip and my participation in the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, in Cape Town September 30-October 3, with the theme “Science & Practice of People-Centred Health Systems.”

In the opening session, Professor Thandika Mkandawire from the London School of Economics made two remarks that resonated with me, and that were referred to by other speakers throughout the conference. First, referencing Napoleon’s quote that “War is too important to leave to the generals,” Mkandawire said that “health is too important to leave to health specialists.”  Instead, there is a need for multiple disciplines and sectors to create health and devise health policy. He went on to address the policy issues related to the most vulnerable populations, saying that “policies targeting the poor are poor policies”, arguing for the importance of social solidarity, not charity.

The current Ebola epidemic highlights the gaps in public health in many nations, as well as the erosion of public health emergency preparedness and response at WHO and many other nations, including the US.. This is putting our health at risk from all kinds of infectious and emerging diseases (e.g., MERS, polio) and threatens progress in health in other areas.

As global citizens, we need to rethink and significantly enhance our ability to detect and respond quickly and adequately to population health threats—and foundations like ours have an important role to play in enhancing the "system" of preparedness and response. Convenings like this are also crucial for highlighting issues around public health around the globe, and sharing solutions.

Social solidarity—or, as RWJF puts it in our 2014 President's Message, “we’re all in this together”—was carried through as a key component of the idea of "people-centredness" in multiple discussions of access to care, quality of care, community mobilization, resilience, and innovations in care. Until this meeting, I was not aware of the large number of low- and moderate-income countries that are putting in place health insurance approaches to access rather than direct, government-funded and provided primary care services. There were multiple models, and debates about their merits, ranging from South Africa’s constitutional guarantee of a right to health and health care to Thailand and Rwanda’s much more gradualist and mixed market-based approaches.

A number of sessions focused on community mobilization strategies that addressed traditionally excluded and marginalized populations and specific patient populations, such as people living with HIV. I was struck by the way this strategy has had an impact on HIV prevention and care in South Africa: In the past 5 years, perinatal transmission has been almost eliminated (dropping from more than 66,000 cases to less than 2,000) and tens of thousands are now receiving anti-retroviral drug treatments, resulting in an addition of four years of life expectancy for the nation! All of this is due to a combination of grassroots organizing, consumer advocacy, anti-stigma and human rights advocacy, and supportive governmental health structure/resources.

Innovation, particularly in the use of mobile technology, was another theme of great interest to me. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) work in this area, coordinated by staff and faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was particularly impressive. They have developed a set of tools and approaches to scaling innovation that I think may be of great relevance and use to the Foundation.

There was also a fair amount of discussion of both individual and community resilience—economic shocks, poverty, violence, disaster. This seemed to me to be an area where the work RWJF and others in the U.S. are doing around Adverse Childhood Experiences and disaster preparedness and response, is not as well known in other countries. For example, I was surprised by the comments of leaders from Doctors Without Borders in one session who viewed the framework of resilience in disaster response suspiciously, speculating that it was a way to decrease disaster response resources from the international community.

Awareness of the unfolding Ebola disaster was ever-present at the meeting. A number of speakers referenced the moral and ethical questions raised by the slow pace of the global response to the outbreak and the tremendous impact in terms of human suffering and lives lost. Further, the fact that the three West African nations at the center of the current outbreak just recently came out of incredibly violent periods of internal conflict and had extremely fragile health systems raised questions about the responsibility of the global health and health care community to identify other countries at risk (e.g., Syria), and be more proactive. These discussions reminded me of the Foundation’s work around the core capabilities and services of public health—the ones that must be available everywhere for the health system to work anywhere.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the experience of being in South Africa itself. It is a uniquely beautiful place. I enjoyed the rugged mountains, the amazing colors and power of the sea, the unique flowers, trees, and animals. But I was most impressed by the spirit of the people as they celebrate 20 years of post-apartheid freedom. This came through in a variety of ways, from the tour guide I met driving us around the Cape peninsula and working the history of apartheid and its impact on his family into his tour commentary, to the former political prisoner on Robbens Island who takes thousands of people like me through a place that confined him for five years but never broke his spirit and determination.

South Africa is a complex, multifaceted society that I experienced for only a brief time. But the spirit of very diverse people coming together and overcoming a powerful system that caused so much pain and suffering was such an inspiration and renewed my hope for humanity’s future!

I have a fair amount of additional information on the particular themes I reflect on here and would be happy to discuss in more depth with anyone who has an interest. Many presentations from the symposium and additional materials and resources can be found on the Health Systems Global website.

Let's hear your feedback.

Paul Kuehnert is a director leading the Foundation’s efforts to build connections between health, social sectors and health care to address the multiple factors that shape Americans' health.


Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:44:00 -0400 Paul Kuehnert Emergency Preparedness and Response Public and Community Health RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Data for Health—Coming to a Town Near You]]>
Listen Image by Ky Olsen (CCBY)

We have some questions for you—questions, that is, about health information. What is it?  Can you get it when you need it? What if your community needed important information to make your town or city safe or keep it healthy? How about information about your health care? Can your doctors and nurses get health care information about you or your family members when they need it quickly?

I came across a recent Wall Street Journal article about a remarkable story of health, resilience and survival in the face of an unimaginable health crisis—a Liberian community facing the advancing Ebola infections in their country got health information and used it to protect themselves. When the community first learned of the rapidly advancing Ebola cases coming toward them, the leaders in that Firestone company town in Liberia jumped on the Internet and performed a Google search for “Ebola”. From that Internet search they learned how to protect themselves. Then those brave people acted on that new information—that new knowledge. They did a number of things like use the information to build quarantine and care facilities as well as map the advancing illness cases in their town—so they could be smart about identifying, quarantining and caring for those infected with the virus—and then stop it. Months later, this town is now essentially a lone bright spot of health in a country devastated by death and illness. Why?  Because the leaders of that town used technology to get the critical health information they needed, and then they used it to act.

Across the globe, in a far different place we find a prosperous, safe community in the United States. It’s a place fortunate to have vast resources and great wealth. It’s a place with beautiful health care facilities that have expensive, nearly brand new electronic health record systems with some of the world’s best trained health professionals. Almost everyone living in this community has a smartphone and nearly nonchalant, expected instantaneous access to detailed information about everything from traffic patterns and weather to the latest movies and best restaurants. This place faced its own Ebola crisis, and something different happened.

Sometimes data, in spite of all of the advantages, does not turn into useful information. We all know now about the health care system failure in Dallas that prompted the missed Ebola diagnosis there. The doctors and nurses in that Dallas hospital had  a brief opportunity to put key bits of information about the patient infected with Ebola together so they could make the right care decision —but they couldn’t quite do it. Instead they missed a chance to get a sick man the care he needed and at the same time triggered a community and national health crisis.

Miscommunication in health care is not unusual. That’s sadly not the headline for the Dallas Ebola story, and it’s not my main point here. It is, however, a striking example of the limits of our current health data system. We have potentially helpful health data all around us—but all too often when we need it to help us make smart health decisions for ourselves or our communities we can’t quite put it together.

What if, however, we developed the information capabilities that would help ensure that you, your community leaders, your physicians and nurses and other health professionals could easily, readily, rapidly and reliably get health information when they needed it in order to keep you safe and help you get and stay healthy? What would that system look like? What do you expect from such a heath information system? What worries you about data systems that provide important information about your health and the health of your community?

We at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation want to know. We work with leaders like you across the country to help build a Culture of Health. None of us can build that health culture without a way to get and use the best health information possible, quickly and efficiently. So, we’re convening a series of meetings across the country in Philadelphia, Des Moines, Phoenix, San Francisco and Charleston this fall to ask you.

Specifically we’ll be inviting 100 community members from each of those places to tell us their hopes, aspirations, worries and fears about digital collection, access and use of data for health. National Coordinator, Karen DeSalvo is interested in these RWJF meetings as well. She will be at all five events listening in person.

Although creating a reliable data system is a tough technical problem—that’s not really the hard part. The really hard data system challenge will be deciding what we want as a country—what we expect—what worries us—and what we will ultimately demand.

As you can see, we have a lot of questions about health information. 

Mostly, though, we’ll be listening as hard as we can to you this fall for some answers.




Thu, 16 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0400 Mike Painter Health Data and IT <![CDATA[New School Year Means New Opportunities to Build Healthy Campuses ]]> RWJF Philadelphia Child Obesity

September always brings the promise of a fresh start, especially for school age kids and their parents. New teachers, new books, new supplies, new shoes. And hopefully, a renewed emphasis on healthy choices. This week is National School Lunch Week, a time to highlight the importance of serving healthy school meals to students throughout the U.S.

Making sure all children have access to healthy food and drinks is a key priority for RWJF. Schools are where kids spend the most amount of time outside of their homes, so it’s an ideal place to instill lessons about the importance of eating healthy and being active. That’s why we are leading a number of initiatives to highlight how healthy school food, as well as recess and physical education (PE), contribute to nationwide efforts to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.

Last month, we hosted a ‘back-to-school’ Google Hangout focusing on how schools can ensure that students eat better and move more. One of my fellow panelists, Principal Mickey Komins from Philadelphia’s Anne Frank Elementary School, shared how his school completely transformed its campus. In order to get kids to eat healthier foods, the Anne Frank school started serving salads at lunch and replaced cupcakes and other sugar and salt-laden snacks, often served at school celebrations, with healthier options like fruit salad. To complement the nutrition improvements, the school offered physical activity programs such as yoga sessions and walking clubs, in addition to PE class and recess. Komins stressed that his school’s incredible story was possible because he engaged the entire school community—students, staff, and parents.

Parents are crucial allies in the quest for healthy school lunch, as underscored by national poll results we released with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the American Heart Association. The poll found that 72 percent of parents favor national standards for both school meals and snacks, while even larger majorities expressed concern about the state of children’s health and childhood obesity. The survey reinforces that parents want us to keep moving forward on making schools the healthiest places they can be.

That’s why we were so pleased to help celebrate 250 of the healthiest schools in the country at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Leaders’ Summit. Representatives from the schools shared their stories on Capitol Hill and in interviews broadcast across America. President Bill Clinton offered his personal congratulations to the inspiring group of educators. At the official awards ceremony, USDA’S Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon, shared some great examples of innovative solutions that schools are implementing to encourage students to make healthier choices. He also hit on a crucial, if sometimes overlooked point: healthy food and physical activity aren’t just good for kids’ health—they have also been shown to improve their academic achievement.

The drive to make schools as healthy as possible can’t be limited to a certain week or month on the calendar. It requires a year-round effort, and it takes everyone to make a difference. I encourage teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members to look for ways to help their local schools make the healthy choice the easy choice before, during and after school. And please share any ideas and successes you’ve had in the comments. Whether it’s in the cafeteria, classroom, hallway, or gymnasium, schools have powerful opportunities to help all children grow up healthy and build a Culture of Health across the country.

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:14:00 -0400 Ginny Ehrlich Healthy Schools Healthy Food Access RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Reflecting on the Great Challenges at TEDMED]]> TEDMED 2014 photo w/Ramanan Laxminarayan Photo courtesy of TEDMED

Here at RWJF, we are working to build a Culture of Health for all. This is an audacious goal, and one that we clearly cannot accomplish alone. We need to collaborate with thinkers and tinkerers and doers from all sectors–which is why we sponsored TEDMED’s exploration of the Great Challenges of Health and Medicine at its 2014 events.

Specifically, RWJF representatives helped facilitate conversations around six Great Challenges: childhood obesity, engaging patients, medical innovation, health care costs, the impact that poverty has on health, and prevention. We spoke with hundreds of people in person and online (Get a glimpse of the conversation here).

We asked three TEDMED speakers from RWJF's network to reflect on their experience at TEDMED and share some of the stimulating ideas they heard. We hope you'll add your ideas in the comments. 

Ramanan Laxminarayan, of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy

Several of the TEDMED talks offered solutions for patients to play a more informed and active role in their care. Dr. Leana Wen’s work at and Elizabeth Holmes’ company Theranos both focus on getting patients the information that they want to inform their personal care decisions. Empowering patients to make decisions based on accurate information can also play a role in reducing hospital-associated infections (HAIs). Patients need better information on the risks of HAIs, and they need to feel comfortable asking questions.

Thomas Goetz, former RWJF entrepreneur in residence

I came away from the Great Challenges and TEDMED event with a sense that there is yet another challenge: How to turn data into something more useful. There’s a persistent gulf between the promise of data to address these challenges and the real-life, logistically complicated, compatibility-challenged, resource-starved, doing of it. In previous years I think many people in the TEDMED constellation expected the data gods to come along and make it happen. This year I think there was an epiphany that the promise of data won’t be fulfilled by IT departments but by those at the top, and those in the trenches.

Consider Ted Kaptchuk’s presentation about research into placebos: On the face of it, he’s not a typical big data acolyte but a philosopher, an expert in Eastern medicine. But by recognizing that placebos can have clinical value, he’s applied statistical rigor toward a new paradigm of understanding. Or look at the audacious vision of Marc Koska, who wants to attack the status quo by re-designing the way we immunize people, , and leverage data in a relentless pursuit of that vision. Or Carl Hart’s data-driven debunking of the conventional wisdom around drug abuse. Or Jill Vialet, founder of Playworks, and the way she took a pragmatic idea about improving recess and brought it to community after community, armed with evidence and passion in equal measure.

My takeaway from TEDMED 2014: that passion and pragmatism mesh, and that data and dedication can be equal allies. I witnessed a new way to tackle the Great Challenges, an inspired approach that doesn’t accept the way things are, and that makes a compelling argument for the way things must be. Data is part of that argument. It’s also part of the solution.

Ted Kaptchuk, of Harvard's Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter

Innovation is critical, yet new ideas are disruptive–so understandably resisted. Intelligence requires a critical attitude, but it is difficult to know if one is too skeptical, or not enough. We need our previous knowledge to make judgments, yet these judgments can involve biases that resist valuable new ideas. Only hindsight can tell us whether we avoided ridiculous propositions, or obstructed positive innovations.

Many of the TEDMED speakers wrestled with this issue. Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, framed the issue in terms of humility. She understands that being “certain” about knowledge is not necessarily a positive for science, and instead can be a way to flatter ourselves. For her, humility means openness to the new and an awareness that today’s “truths” can become tomorrow’s discarded beliefs. She reminded me of Max Planck’s warning that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

We want to always reflect on what unexpected innovations the next generation will generate, and remember–they will be smarter than us.



Mon, 6 Oct 2014 11:19:00 -0400 Paul Tarini Health Data and IT <![CDATA[Let’s Talk About Stress]]>
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.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been thinking about stress and its connection to health for quite some time. We’re finding that in many ways we have a culture of stress rather than a Culture of Health. We need to understand that and work together to fix it.

I’m a family doctor and used to practice at a community health center in Seattle. I recently came across a story that reminded me of many of my former patients. Jeanette is a young mother living in Connecticut, experiencing major stress in her life: she had just had a baby, was suffering postpartum depression, lost her job, was facing eviction, and her relationship was in trouble. Not surprisingly, her stress also affected her baby, Shiloh—just weeks old. Shiloh wasn’t smiling, didn’t play, and didn’t communicate.

When we’re under stress, our bodies produce an increased amount of cortisol. A certain amount is healthy, but too much over a long period of time can have very negative effects—especially in a developing brain. That is likely what was happening to Shiloh. Stress can exacerbate or cause lifelong illness like diabetes, depression and heart disease.

At RWJF we wanted to understand how the public perceives and manages stress, so we conducted a public opinion survey on stress with NPR and Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Here’s some of what we found:

  • Half of those we surveyed had a stressful experience in the past year.
  • Most who reported high stress were already in poor health—including many who have chronic conditions or illness.
  • The vast majority said that stress negatively affects their family and social lives, how they perform at work—as well as their health.
  • Over half of those with a great deal of stress and a chronic illness or disability said stress made their symptoms worse and their condition harder to manage.
  • Over 90 percent said they manage or buffer stress by spending time with family and friends, exercising, eating well, or doing outdoor activities.
  • Unfortunately, only 50 percent said they do things to buffer their stress.

The numbers, of course, are important, but the stories are even more powerful. Jeanette and Shiloh did get help from an RWJF-funded initiative, Child First—a home visiting program that helps stabilize families with young children. But that’s just one story; there are many, many more. When NPR asked people to share stories about the stress in their lives, they received an overwhelming number—6,000 responses, when they typically only get about 500.

Why? Americans are stressed; they know it, and they want to talk about it.

Health isn’t just a lack of illness. It’s so much more—it’s enjoying and embracing life—that includes successfully managing life’s stress.

The goal of our work is health and well-being for everyone. We can’t get there unless we address the stress in our lives. (See our infographic about how to move from a culture of stress to a Culture of Health.) That means we must try to reduce it where we can and learn to directly manage it where we can’t.

What we’re finding: Stress is making us sick.

The good news: We don’t have to let it.

Thu, 2 Oct 2014 09:52:00 -0400 Mike Painter Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Mental and Emotional Well-Being Social Determinants of Health National RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[The 21st Century Medical School and the “Flipped” Classroom]]> Flip the classroom video still

Pity the poor medical student...or at least many students now slogging away in medical schools across the nation.  

Most spend the first two years of medical school cramming their heads with facts about the functions of cells, organ systems, and other aspects of the human body. Having contact with real patients—the reason most students went to medical school in the first place—is quite limited until the third year, when clinical clerkships begin.

Meanwhile, medical knowledge is exploding, doubling every five years, and taxing the human brain’s capacity for processing and recall. Today’s medical students know that one day, they’ll be most likely to practice medicine with the aid of “cognitive computing” systems like IBM’s Watson, which has already “learned” as much as a second-year med student, and is helping clinicians at the Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and other institutions process reams of medical information to make clinical decisions. 

So in this brave new world of medicine, what sense is there in making medical students cram down many facts that may already be in flux—or spend hours listening to lectures from the proverbial “sage on the stage?”  Why not “flip” the medical school classroom, by packaging much basic content in online form, and then creating richer pedagogical experiences for students that better equip them with critical thinking skills truly required for good doctoring?

Those are the goals of projects sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and now under way at Khan Academy, Stanford Medical School and four other institutions. With RWJF’s support, for example, Khan Academy has developed dozens of online videos explaining everything from diseases of the heart and circulatory system to how to interpret blood lab test. And for the past two years, the foundation has collaborated with the Association of American Medical Colleges and Khan Academy to sponsor national contests encouraging medical school students to create video and online content for those preparing to take the revised Medical College Admission Test®, or  MCAT®, scheduled to debut in the spring of 2015.

Michael Painter, MD, JD, senior program officer at RWJF, says such efforts aren’t just intended for current or aspiring medical students. “Technology enables us to spread knowledge for free to anyone who is a curious learner,” and also to transmit it to others who may need it, including patients. He notes that video and other online content developed by Khan Academy is playing a growing role in educating people across the health professions—for example, nursing students preparing for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses  (NYCLEX-RN).

Working with the Khan Academy, and building on its “flipped classroom” model, Stanford now leads an effort to “create educational products that are more valuable than individual medical schools are able to create on their own,” says Charles Prober, MD, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology and senior associate dean for medical educations at the university’s medical school. Together with medical school faculty and students at the University of Washington, Duke, the University of California at San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Prober and colleagues are creating a prototype online course on microbiology and immunology–in effect, about viruses, bacteria, and other bugs, and the body systems that fight them–that can be used across all medical schools.

“Right now, in North America, more than 140 medical schools each have their own idea of what a true core course in microbiology and immunology should be,” says Prober. Considering that all US students will ultimately take the same exam to get a medical license, “we’ve been doing them a disservice” not to come to a common agreement on core components of knowledge that students should acquire.

It took much discussion, but the five schools have now agreed on core content for at least the one course, on microbiology and immunology. It will be piloted beginning in October at UCSF, and roll out across the other four schools beginning next January. The course’s online videos feature compelling stories focused on fictional patients, scripted by medical content experts and artfully drawn by another Stanford educator, Maya Adam. One segment features a young Haitian boy, Philippe, who develops cholera after drinking from a local water tap. His fictional elder brother, a medical school student, tracks down the culprit: the bacterium Vibrio cholera, which is endemic in Philippe’s neighborhood.

The videos, which students can watch from home, are intended to serve as “springboards” into deeper, more interactive classroom discussions based on materials somewhat like classic business school case studies. Such sessions, guided by a facilitator, “focus us more on forming us as clinical decision makers, because they force us to interact more with the material,” says Jennifer DeCoste-Lopez, a Stanford medical student who leads a student group working on the project.

The prototype will be evaluated and undoubtedly tweaked—and, if ultimately deemed successful, used as a model for other courses for first- and second-year med students. And it may help to set the stage for similar innovations in educating tomorrow’s health professionals throughout their lifetimes.

Join an RWJF “First Friday” Google+Hangout on Flipping the Medical School Classroom, on Friday, October 3, from 12 pm to 1 pm ET.

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 09:30:00 -0400 Susan Dentzer Health Care Education and Training <![CDATA[Helping Physicians Do What They Got Into Medicine to Do]]> Two women are at a desk, one is counting money

“Health care was never intended to be the behemoth it's become. It was intended to be the place where people could get help for medical problems so they can return to living a healthy life.”

For me, this statement—from an internist I met last month—is a refreshing take on the value of the health care system in a Culture of Health. It’s an inspiring vision for those of us focused on the usual litany of problems: Our health care system costs too much, and delivers outcomes that lag behind other countries to such a degree that it threatens our economic health and social fabric.

Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) invested in five markets—Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and the St. Louis region—where there is the will and ability to measure health care costs and quality, and use that information to drive change. In each of these markets, we’re working with multi-stakeholder organizations who are members of the Network for Regional Health Improvement (NHRI). Each organization will produce reports that compare the cost of treating patients in each primary care practice in their market. (You can learn more about this project here.)

At RWJF, we believe working at community level, with many different people and organizations, can help build a Culture of Health. But when it comes to our health care system, physicians are still perhaps the most influential force, in part because they hold the power of the pen to order services. They (along with nurses) also are among the strongest political and moral voices for or against change. Granted, we can't ask our doctors to heal a broken health care system the way they treat a broken bone; on the other hand, I don’t think we can fix the health care system without having physicians on board.

I met that internist quoted above during NHRI’s two-day workshop with 16 primary care physician champions from the five pioneering regions. Our goal was to prepare them to help their physician colleagues back home to use the cost comparison reports to find ways to reduce costs and improve quality—in other words, to deliver high-value care. Some of these physicians had been nominated by community leaders; others were selected by competitive application. Some were veteran health care value champions; some were newbies. All willingly plunged into the complex details of cost measurement.

The physician leaders I met recognize that the current American health care system is financially unsustainable, and that health care is only one component of a Culture of Health.

They understand that our national overinvestment in health care is making it impossible for American industry to be competitive, crowding out investments in things such as education and infrastructure. I didn’t hear anyone say, “That’s not our problem as health care providers to fix.” These physicians know that big changes are coming in the way health care is paid for and delivered, and they seemed anxious for a forum in which they can talk with their peers about how to get ready for those changes. Most of the time was spent helping them think about how cost and quality data will help them lead change in their communities.

One very inspiring session brought together the hard evidence about what we’ve learned from neuroscience and other disciplines about how people use (and don’t use) information to make decisions, with a deeply empathetic framing of how physicians, especially, may respond to reports that compare their performance to their peers. I came away understanding more than ever that when you want people to change, it won’t help—and it may hurt—if you just show people (especially physicians) a pile of data and charts, or just offer to pay them more.

Physicians need to believe that the cost of care comparisons will help them do the work they hoped to do when they entered medical school, and that working with the comparisons “feels” like the right thing to do. It made me think about how I want the doctors who treat my family and me to escape from what was referred to as a “soul-crushing” system.

I also came away understanding much more clearly how the ground is shifting under physicians’ feet; as one participant put it, now that we are better able to measure outcomes, and now that those data are cheap, physicians no longer have infinite power and infinite responsibility.

One of our physician champions challenged us: “Show me something I can change tomorrow.” They all wanted concrete, actionable steps they can take, whether it’s changing their prescribing practices, when they order tests, or where they refer their patients for specialty care. I especially enjoyed a presentation from Sutter Health’s Mike Von Duren, who called himself the “midwife of the ‘aha” moment.” He brings data on variation—in prescribing practices, or diagnostic test ordering, or procedure rates—to community physicians. Mike described the way physicians digest the data, then turn away from the screen and toward each other; they begin to talk to each other and trade best practices—and they have fun doing it!

I was inspired and energized by the 16 physician leaders I met at the workshop, but on the way home, I couldn’t help wondering: Are they enough to change the health care system? Medical education is beginning to incorporate important concepts of health care performance and value but the problems facing us are too urgent to wait for a new generation of leaders. The question is how to extend the efforts of 16 physician leaders in five communities, across the nation. What will it take to get us there? I’d love it if you shared any ideas you might have in the comments section below.

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:02:00 -0400 Anne Weiss Health Care Costs Health Care Quality RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Bringing in Diverse Perspectives to Build a Culture of Health]]>
Susannah Fox Susannah Fox, RWJF Entrepreneur in Residence

Entrepreneurs start from a place of passion, then work tirelessly to make others see their vision. I'm excited to announce that Susannah Fox will be pushing all of us at the Foundation to behave more like entrepreneurs.

This month, Fox began a new role as the Foundation's next entrepreneur in residence. She was previously an associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, where she combined traditional survey research with field work in online patient communities. She excels at using data and storytelling to compel policymakers, consumers, and entrepreneurs to understand and discuss key health care issues.

To build a Culture of Health in the United States, we have to consider new approaches and ways of thinking. We need the creativity, imagination, and efforts of people from a range of backgrounds and industries to develop innovative solutions to our most pressing health and health care challenges. A health and technology researcher and trend spotter, Fox will be a valuable asset to these efforts.

Fox will collaborate with staff across the Foundation to initiate key projects, some of which will draw on her unique expertise in online patient communities and the social impact of technology. Even more important, we hope that she will challenge us, question our philanthropic processes, force us to consider new ways of doing things, and help us overcome the constraints we often place on ourselves. A master networker, Fox will help scan for new opportunities for the Foundation and will help us partner with entrepreneurs and other leaders to build a Culture of Health.

The entrepreneur in residence role, though successful in its first year, is still an experiment for RWJF. Our first entrepreneur in residence, former WIRED executive editor and Iodine Founder Thomas Goetz, brought his expertise on the design and the communication of health data and information to the Foundation, helping us to consider new approaches to challenges in health and health care. Goetz worked with us to develop two key initiatives: Flip the Clinic, a project to reimagine the encounter between patients and care providers, and Visualizing Health, a partnership with the University of Michigan to explore and share best practices for visualizing data to communicate health and risk information.

We're excited to see where this next phase in our experiment takes us, and we hope you'll stay tuned for updates about Fox's work with RWJF.

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 09:00:00 -0400 Lori Melichar Leadership Development Health Care Education and Training Health Data and IT RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[I’m RWJF’s Newest Entrepreneur in Residence]]>
Susannah Fox offers office hours at RWJF. Susannah Fox offers office hours at RWJF.

I am thrilled to begin my job as the entrepreneur in residence (EIR) at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

You might think that the EIR role is traditionally associated with venture capital firms, not foundations. But scratch the surface and you’ll find commonalities between the two industries. Both VCs and philanthropists have daring ambitions, place lots of bets, and hope for a big pay-off every once in a while. The difference is that a philanthropy like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation places a priority on societal dividends, such as greater access to health care or a reduction in childhood obesity.

I also like this definition of entrepreneurship: “The pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” That fits the Foundation to a T as we pursue the audacious goal of building a Culture of Health in the United States.

But how will we measure success? How will we know if our bets ever pay off, especially when we are talking about culture change? I have a story to tell that I think illustrates how a small grant can make a big difference in the world.

In 2002, Robin Mockenhaupt, now chief of staff at the Foundation, oversaw a grant to Tom Ferguson, MD, to write a white paper about what he called “the first generation of e-patients.” In one bold stroke, Tom coined the word e-patients to describe people who are equipped, enabled, empowered, and engaged in their health and health care decisions. It was an almost outlandish idea a decade ago. But Robin believed there was something there and she wanted Tom to chronicle it.

The initial grant was for a six-month project. Tom worked on it for four years, continually improving on and expanding the white paper with the help of a close circle of advisors. I think the Foundation may have given up on seeing any result from the grant. And indeed, when Tom died unexpectedly in April 2006, it seemed that his work would go unpublished and unshared.

Instead, Tom’s friends and advisors (including me) finished the white paper and published it as free PDF on It sparked a conversation that continues today in policy circles, clinical settings, board rooms, and – just as important – around the kitchen table of anyone who finds themselves dropped into the maze of health care without a map.

Meantime, the word “e-patient” has become part of our lexicon. The equipped, enabled, empowered, engaged – and yes, entrepreneurial – patient has a seat at the health care table. That’s a cultural change that benefits us all. And it’s a ripple effect from a pebble dropped into the pond of the public conversation in 2002.

How might we measure the effects of small grants like the one that supported Tom’s work? How might we recognize the opportunities that seem outlandish today but will resonate far into the future?

As a researcher, I documented the online landscape and followed the trail blazed by people living with chronic and rare conditions – the alpha geeks of health care. Now, as an Entrepreneur in Residence, I hope to drop a few pebbles into the pond of culture change.

Please join us in dreaming big, setting audacious goals, and co-creating the future of health and health care. Let us know what opportunities you see and where you are placing your bets.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:54:00 -0400 Susannah Fox Leadership Development Health Care Education and Training National Leadership Views <![CDATA[Stress: Withstanding the Waves]]>
Infographic: stress_section
Infographic: stress_section

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

View the full infographic

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.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:42:00 -0400 Ari Kramer Mental and Emotional Well-Being Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Social Determinants of Health National RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Cutting Calories: Good for Health, Good for Business]]> 90307108

Four years ago, 16 companies, acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), announced an ambitious pledge—to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace by 2015. They wanted to help reduce obesity in America, especially childhood obesity. Research published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirms that the companies far exceeded their pledge, and are making a difference that’s helping families buy fewer calories.

Collectively, these companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than they did in 2007, which we announced in early 2014. What’s new in these studies tells us that, during that same pledge period, families with children bought fewer calories from packaged foods and beverages—and the biggest cuts were from major sources of excess calories in kids’ diets, such as sweets, snacks, and soft drinks.

Why is this pledge so important, and what’s the next step for industry leaders who want to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic? RWJF senior vice president Jim Marks and lead study author Barry Popkin, PhD, of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, share their views.

RWJF: What’s the most important finding in these studies?

Barry Popkin: People are buying fewer calories from HWCF brands, and many of those calorie cuts came from foods and drinks that are key sources of excess calories in kids’ diets—products that are highest in fats and added sugars, like sweets, snacks and sugary drinks. These are meaningful changes.

But we must remember that this is only one part of broader national efforts needed to help all families and children have healthier diets. To make progress on this very ambitious goal, we must collaborate beyond the HWCF pledge to encourage industry leaders to shift to product lines and marketing practices that make it easier for kids to consume more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other nutritious foods and drinks.

RWJF: The 6.4 trillion calorie cut translates into a reduction of 78 calories per person per day. Is this enough to make an impact?

Jim Marks: The calorie cuts achieved by these companies have the potential to be quite important. Together, the 16 companies account for about a third of all the calories from packaged foods and beverages sold in America, so they can have a big influence on the market.

But it’s true that this measurement of calories per person per day is a limited picture. The 78 calorie number does not take into account other sources of calories, the purchased food that is wasted, the impact of physical activity, or how healthy those calories are. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

That’s why we must continue to do all we can to make sure that the foods and beverages available to children and families are healthy and affordable. The HWCF companies need to further their commitments, and other companies need to step up to the plate as well. We also need to ensure that these changes are benefiting everyone, especially those at higher risk for obesity.

RWJF: The study on households with children notes that the decline in the number of calories families purchased from HWCF brands was less than expected. What does that mean?

Barry Popkin: We looked at shifts in what families were buying both before and after the HWCF companies made their commitment. We found that before these 16 companies started their pledge, families were already buying fewer calories from packaged goods sold by HWCF companies. If those trends had continued at exactly the same pace, we would have expected the calories purchased from HWCF companies to go down more than they did from 2007 to 2012, during HWCF’s pledge period.

Overall, we found that American families with children bought 101 fewer calories from packaged goods per person per day during the pledge period. We also found that HWCF brands contributed to the decline more than other brands—families bought 66 fewer calories from HWCF brands—and that the largest calorie cuts came from sweets and snacks, carbonated soft drinks, and cereals and other grain products. These are extremely encouraging accomplishments and they had a real impact on families.

RWJF: To evaluate HWCF’s pledge, the research team developed a way to track the flow of food and beverage products across America. Are there other ways to leverage this system?

Barry Popkin: These results are part of a pioneering evaluation that, for the first time, tracks foods and beverages from factory to fork. It tells us what companies are selling and what Americans are buying and eating. It also opens new opportunities to work with industry leaders to find far-reaching solutions that benefit both the health of Americans and the companies’ bottom lines.

We are continuing to monitor trends that show what people are buying. Future studies supported by RWJF will go beyond examining the HWCF pledge to assess how changes in the marketplace influence children’s diets and their risk for obesity. Other studies also supported by RWJF will examine how these changes have affected the foods and beverages purchased by those at greatest risk for obesity, including minority and lower-income families.

RWJF: Why did RWJF evaluate this pledge and what’s RWJF’s goal going forward?

Jim Marks: I was in the room with these companies when they announced their original commitment and volunteered for it to be evaluated. I know these leaders recognize the severity of the childhood obesity epidemic and are committed to addressing it. That’s why we agreed to fund the evaluation, and I’m so pleased with what we’ve learned so far. This is a remarkable accomplishment. It shows that industry can be part of the solution for reversing the nation’s obesity epidemic.

At RWJF we recognize that our vision—to build a Culture of Health that offers everyone opportunities to make healthy choices, no matter where we live or how well off we are—cannot be realized without cooperation from the business community. So we’ll move forward by encouraging HWCF and other industry leaders to do even more to ensure that healthy changes are a priority. This includes companies that shape our nation’s food supply—food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers. But also health care providers, childcare facilities, hotels, sports organizations, major media and entertainment companies, and other businesses that influence how we live, learn, work and play.

We’d encourage anyone who’s interested in learning more about how the food and beverage industry can help address childhood obesity to join the live webcast here for a special conversation between RWJF CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and chair of HWCF. The discussion will take place Wednesday, September 24, and will be moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour.

RWJF: How are people responding to these types of changes? Does "healthy" sell?

Jim Marks: Yes. Making the shift to lower-calorie products is not just the right thing for customers, it also makes solid business sense because consumers are demanding healthier choices. In fact, for some food and beverage companies, it’s the “better for you” lower-calorie products that are driving sales and profits.

A report by the Hudson Institute found that 99 percent of the almost $1/2 billion in sales growth for leading consumer packaged goods came from lower-calorie foods from 2007 to 2012. There also has been a 96 percent increase in the availability of lower-calorie products. Food and beverage manufacturers are responding to shifting consumer demand for lower-calorie, healthier products, which is an encouraging trend. This is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to helping all kids and families make the healthy choice the easy, affordable, everyday choice.


Healthy Weight Commitment Infographic Social Graphic
Healthy Weight Commitment Infographic Social Graphic

How Food and Beverage Companies Met the Challenge

The 16 companies, working together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, pledged to cut 1.5 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2015. They did better than that. They sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than in 2007.

View the full infographic

Tue, 16 Sep 2014 12:58:00 -0400 RWJF Blog Team Healthy Food Access <![CDATA[Tackling Great Challenges at TEDMED]]>

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.

We have a bold vision to build a Culture of Health in the United States, where being healthy is a social value that is reflected in our public and private policies, in the way we live, in the ways communities are developed, and in the way health care is provided. We believe that only when we TRULY value health will we be able to overcome these and other challenges facing our country.

My colleagues and I will be at this year’s TEDMED conferences, happening simultaneously in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, September 10-12. Walk up to us. Talk to us when we walk up to you. Tell us what you are going to do to overcome these Great Challenges. Tell us what you can do to help us build a strong, inclusive Culture of Health.

TedMed Logo

We need ways to give individuals the means and the opportunities to make choices that lead to healthy lifestyles, so they will be more empowered and committed to engaging as active partners in their health. To make sure all of us, regardless of race, geography, ethnicity, or socioeconomics, live in a society where our kids can walk or bike to school safely, and have healthy, affordable foods within easy striking distance, so we can continue to reduce childhood obesity.

If we work with academia, government, industry and citizen scientists to reconsider how medical knowledge is created and distributed, we can make major leaps in medical innovation. And find ways to ensure that health providers serve as an active partner with patients, openly discussing the price and value of treatment, it could contribute to cutting health care costs.

If we can design approaches and knit systems together in ways that bridge care delivery with the non-medical factors that shape people’s well-being—where they live, learn, work, and play—we can help alleviate the impact of poverty on health.  Furthermore, if we redefine what it means to be healthy to mean so much more than simply not being sick, we can help change how the nation values and invests in prevention.

If you’re not able to be there, tell us—and the TEDMED community—your ideas and visions by using the hashtags #GreatChallenges and #TEDMED. Follow us at @RWJF_Live and our president, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey—who will be on site in San Francisco—at @risalavizzo. You can also follow me at @susanpromislo. We’re listening and can’t wait to move this exploration forward.

RWJF is also a proud supporter of several of the innovative thinkers who are sharing their ideas on the TEDMED stage this year, including Jill Vialet, Ted Kaptchuk, and Ramanan Laxminarayan, as well as former RWJF entrepreneur in residence Thomas Goetz. If you are a teaching hospital, nonprofit, medical school or government agency, you may apply to watch the live stream from the event and see their talks.

In the meantime, watch previous TEDMED talks from current and past RWJF grantees and leaders.

Wed, 10 Sep 2014 07:00:00 -0400 Susan Promislo RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Expanding Horizons for Rural Young Men of Color]]> 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 ...

To me, good grantmaking means asking ourselves hard questions. It means making sure we are not setting up barriers that inadvertently exclude whole categories of communities and organizations that have the potential to do amazing and transformative work. In this case, when we realized that we were leaving out a major region of our nation, we had to ask ourselves, how could we adapt Forward Promise to build a Culture of Health there? What would we need to do differently to be effective in the rural South and Southwest?

In answering those questions, three insights stood out:

Place matters in the health of young people, families and communities. Where you live, where you go to school, and where you play profoundly influences your opportunities for health and success. We would have to design an approach that reflected the rural realities of the communities we wanted to reach.

Partnership is essential. The only way we could make a difference for the young men in this region would be if we found the right regional partners to work with us. And they would need to be able to partner with local organizations, who in turn would work together with schools, social services, local government, and health providers in their own communities.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. What a young, black teenager in Mississippi experiences is different from a Native American boy living in Indian Country in rural Arizona. Because their experiences vary so much, our approach across the South and Southwest would have to vary as well.

These insights drove and shaped the design of our new Forward Promise Catalyst Grants, the third and final cohort of grantees to join the initiative. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation together with Public Interest Projects have chosen four primary grantees in the South and Southwest. These regional grantees will regrant funds to community organizations working to build a Culture of Health for young men of color. We believe this approach gives us the best opportunity to build new capacity for change across a region that traditionally has lacked the philanthropic resources. And it gives us the best chance to empower local communities to help their own young men of color live healthy and productive lives.

The four primary Catalyst grantees are:

  • Black Belt Community Foundation will focus in 12 largely rural counties of Alabama, where more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line;
  • The Foundation for the Mid South will focus on rural communities of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas;
  • First Nations Development Institute will focus on rural Native American communities of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona; and
  • Hispanics in Philanthropy will focus on rural Hispanic communities in the Southwest.  

Over the next 18 months, as each grantee redistributes funds to promising solutions in their regions, we will also be documenting the project and using the stories and lessons we capture to boost investment more broadly in the South and in rural areas. Our investment is the largest private investment in rural young men of color to date, but we hope it will be the spark for something even bigger.

All of this is a reminder that responsive grantmaking can be game-changing for investors as much as grantees. I look forward to sharing the transformative stories to come and seeing how they help to build a Culture of Health that includes all communities.

Mon, 8 Sep 2014 13:55:00 -0400 Maisha Simmons Family and Social Support Men and boys Rural American Indian (incl. Alaska Native) Asian/Pacific Islander Black (incl. African American) Latino or Hispanic Arizona (AZ) M New Mexico (NM) M Texas (TX) WSC Mississippi (MS) ESC Louisiana (LA) WSC Arkansas (AR) WSC Alabama (AL) ESC RWJF Staff Views <![CDATA[Obesity in America: Are We Turning the Corner?]]> 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.

Adult obesity rates have largely stabilized over the past two years while childhood obesity rates have leveled off over the last decade. Childhood obesity rates have even declined in a number of places in recent years—from Anchorage, Alaska, to Eastern Massachusetts, in California and Mississippi, in big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in rural areas like Vance and Granville counties in North Carolina.

Plus, for the first time in a decade, data show a downward trend in obesity rates among young children from low-income families in many states. The importance of this development cannot be overstated. These are children at particularly high risk for obesity and whose families have the fewest opportunities to make healthy choices. Preventing obesity early makes it much more likely for a child to maintain a healthy weight into adolescence and adulthood. Research shows that kids who receive a healthy start in life stand a much better chance of graduating college, earning higher-paying jobs, avoiding chronic diseases, and living longer lives.

Over the past few years, RWJF has spotlighted several communities that are working to build a Culture of Health, setting a national example for others to follow. Every school in Mingo County, W.Va., for example—home to Williamson, one of six winners of the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize—has joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program to promote healthy eating and physical activity for all students. A new farmers’ market and unique “Prescription Vegetables” program incentivizes healthy eating for all residents, particular seniors and those who are low-income.

In Santa Cruz County, Calif.—one of the inaugural RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners in 2013—the youth-led advocacy group Jóvenes SANOS is on a mission to encourage healthier eating for all county residents. After noticing that there were almost no healthy food options around the high school, its members worked with the city council to pass a new restaurant ordinance that requires new restaurants to offer and highlight healthy options. They’re also working to bring healthy vending machine options to the county’s metro bus stations.

Or consider the Midwest city “Mighty” Manistique, Mich., whose local farmers’ market placed second nationally in the America’s Favorite Farmers’ Market contest in the boutique-size market category. In Manistique, city leaders turned a former dumping ground into a 40-acre park complete with sledding hill, archery range, nature trails, baseball field, basketball and tennis courts, and swimming beach.

Now, let me be clear: when it comes to obesity, there’s still too much bad news and too few success stories.  We’re starting to tip the scale in the right direction but much more work is needed to keep the momentum going. It will take strong and ongoing commitment from policy, industry, and community leaders across the nation to create policies and environments that make healthy choices the easy and everyday choices for all of us, no matter where we live.

When the description of obesity in America turns from “optimistic” to “reversed,” I believe the Williamsons, Santa Cruzes, and Manistiques, and hundreds of other communities like those, will be the reasons we won the fight. 

John R. Lumpkin, MD, MPH, is RWJF senior vice president and director, targeted teams.

Thu, 4 Sep 2014 09:18:00 -0400 John R. Lumpkin Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Childhood Obesity