How to Help Students by Helping Their Parents

Jul 27, 2016, 12:00 PM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky, Kristin Schubert

Communities share the specific steps they took to maximize academic success by supporting parents and families.

Teacher holds a student during class.

We’re all well aware that education leads to better jobs and higher income. Just as important, research also links education to reduced risk of illness, increased vitality, longevity and academic success that extends to future generations.

That’s why the situation for schools in Lawrence, Mass., was particularly concerning back in 2010. At the time, more than one out of every four Lawrence kids dropped out of high school. This led the Massachusetts Department of Education to put Lawrence’s schools into receivership by 2012, placing them under new management to safeguard state assets. The state-appointed “receiver,” was granted authority to develop an intervention plan to overhaul the schools through steps you might expect such as expanding the school day and replacing half the districts’ principals.

But the district also took one critical step by acknowledging that a family’s financial stability strongly influences how well children do in school—and whether they drop out.

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To Heal a Community, Build Capacity

Jul 20, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Laura Porter, Martha Davis

Lessons from Washington State show a culture shift can lead to healthier lives.

Group gathering in front of of a building at night.

About 15 years ago, non-profit and public service providers in Cowlitz County, Wash. were trying to figure out why—despite great planning and programming—there were still problems in the neighborhood that made the most 911 calls. The prevailing wisdom was that the neighborhood was dangerous because it was dark outside people’s homes, and it stayed dark because people liked it that way. It helped conceal criminal activity. But the coordinator for the service collaborative knew she needed to engage with residents and learn what they thought. So to start to figure out what was happening, she went house by house to talk to people.

As those discussions with community residents grew, it became clear that residents saw things differently.

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At the Intersection of Urban Planning and Health in the New York Metro Region

Jul 12, 2016, 4:48 PM, Posted by Mandu Sen

Urban planning plays a role in addressing health challenges in America and can help give everyone the opportunity to live their healthiest lives possible. A new report shows us how.

A man rides his bike through the street.

More perhaps than any place in the world, the New York metropolitan region is known for its urban form—its physical layout and design. From the Manhattan skyline to the neon lights and tourist-packed streets of Times Square to the rolling hills and winding paths of Central Park, New York’s built and natural environment is part of what makes it such a vibrant, dynamic place to live. The distinctive form also has important health impacts. But, as discussed in a new report, State of the Region’s Health: How the New York Metropolitan Region’s Urban Systems Influence Health, these impacts are often poorly understood.

The report, written by the Regional Plan Association (RPA) with support from RWJF, provides an in-depth look at health in the New York metropolitan region, where 23 million people live in cities, suburbs, villages and rural communities stretching from New Haven, Connecticut to Ocean County, New Jersey. It finds that New York region residents live longer than U.S. residents overall, but they are not necessarily healthier.

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Wanted: Creative Research—From Any Field—Revealing What Makes Everyone In America Healthier

Jul 6, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Claire Gibbons

Researchers: RWJF wants to fund your best ideas, and most rigorous study designs, to help us learn what works to promote the health of everyone in America.

A child looks through a large magnifying glass.

What does it take for Americans to lead healthier lives? Seems like a simple question, but it takes research to get answers we can act on.

Research is how we will discover what happens to resident and community health when a low-income community in Seattle—pocked with aging infrastructure and troubled, publicly subsidized housing—is transformed into one that sports mixed-income housing, new parks and services that support well-being. It’s a way we can measure the value of litigation aimed at forcing school districts in California to comply with state requirements for physical education in schools. Through research, we can pinpoint whether the presence of children in a defendant’s life influences sentencing decisions. And only through research can we further understand how criminal sentences impact the overall health and living arrangements of these children.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is funding these and other studies through its Evidence for Action (E4A) National Program, now in its second year. We want to continue making grants through E4A, which is why we invite you to explore our Call for Proposals (CFP).

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Can Virtual Reality Make Us More Empathetic?

Jun 29, 2016, 2:00 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

Virtual reality is proving to be a tool to help build the human capacity to care about the realities of others—something that’s needed to tackle social issues like homelessness.

A man tests out a virtual reality headset. Photo Credit: Maurizio Pesce/ Flickr via CC by 2.0

Today, San Francisco media took the unprecedented step of putting aside competitive interests and devoted an entire day of coverage to the issue of homelessness in the Bay Area. Frustrated at inaction over the city's homeless crisis, local newsmakers have flooded the airwaves and filled pages of newsprint to focus attention on the problem and potential solutions.

Homelessness is not just something San Franciscans are struggling with. On any given night, over 1/2 million people in the U.S.—including children and families—are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homeless.

Tackling tough issues like homelessness requires empathy. Having empathy for those in need is a vital first step toward action. We’ve seen events that enable people to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a homeless person be effective at helping build understanding and compassion for the homeless. But what would it mean if people could walk a virtual mile in another’s shoes? Could the immersive nature of virtual reality help us reach more people and build lasting empathy?

Working with researchers at Stanford University, that’s exactly what we hope to find out.

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Communities Are Using a Powerful Tool to Journey Toward Better Health

Jun 27, 2016, 2:00 PM, Posted by Kate Konkle

Communities across the United States are using data to help set goals, measure progress and provide better services that will ultimately improve residents' health.

Graphic showing how data can inform health

“Where have we been? Where are we going? How can we get there?” These are the questions facing communities who want to make health a right, not a privilege, for all of their residents. And they can’t answer these questions without one critical tool: data.

As a former community coach with the Roadmaps to Health Action Center, I was a sounding board, devil’s advocate and cheerleader all in one. I was also a data guru, helping communities use numbers to guide decisions and come together around priorities.

Data is a powerful tool in any community’s work to build a Culture of Health. A good place to start looking for data is the County Health Rankings, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, because it compiles health stats on nearly every county in the nation. Other sources, such as federal, state and local departments of health, education, labor, and parks and recreation also provide useful statistics. In some cases, I advise communities to consider collecting their own data, either because the information they want isn’t already collected, or because existing sources don’t provide the rich level of detail they need about particular populations or issues.

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The Impact of Climate Change on Health and Equity

Jun 22, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Tackling the daunting health effects of climate change requires community leaders from all sectors to work together to meet the needs of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

A flooded town after a big storm.

It’s been nearly 10 years, but I still remember the deadly heatwave that hit California back in July 2006 and claimed hundreds of lives.

The blistering heat lasted for 10 days, with temperatures soaring as high as 119 degrees—the highest ever recorded in Los Angeles County. The number of heat-related deaths was estimated to be as high as 450 across nine counties, including Los Angeles County.

During the five years that I worked as director of emergency preparedness and response for the Los Angeles County Department of Health, we constantly battled the health effects of really hot days, wildfires and droughts.

These weather phenomena directly impact health—and they are all linked with global climate change. Just this past weekend, during a trip to Yosemite National Park, President Obama noted, “Climate change is no longer a threat—it’s a reality.”

The people at greatest risk of serious harm from these climate change-related events include children, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, the economically marginalized and communities of color.

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Costs of Care: Getting the Patient-Provider Conversation Right

Jun 15, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Emmy Ganos

Doctors and patients want to talk transparently about the costs and value of health care, but it’s easier said than done. A new funding opportunity from RWJF seeks to address this challenge by surfacing best practices.

A doctor asks a patient how he is feeling in a cartoon illustration.

Health care is too often the most stressful part of the American family's budget. In a 2015 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 42 percent of respondents reported that it is somewhat or very difficult to afford health services. This difficulty ranked higher than monthly utilities, housing, food expenses and transportation costs. In the same survey, more than half of respondents said that making information about the price of medical appointments, procedures and tests more available to patients should be a “top health care priority” for the President and Congress.

Rising out-of-pocket costs helped shape these attitudes, and they are hitting patients in the U.S. at all levels. For people with job-based insurance, the number of individuals with plan deductibles—and the size of those deductibles—has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2015, the rate of covered workers enrolled in a plan with an annual deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage was 63 percent, a significant jump from 10 percent in 2006. This year, deductibles in marketplace plans are even higher than employer insurance, averaging $3,064 for coverage in the popular "silver" tier. For low-income marketplace enrollees, they might qualify for cost-sharing reductions, but they aren’t completely shielded from out-of-pocket expenses.

How can we lower the burden of health care costs in the U.S.?

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How Can Partnering with the Housing Sector Improve Health?

Jun 8, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Pamela Russo, Rebecca Morley

Collaboration between public health and housing sectors can vastly improve the quality of life within communities across the nation.  

Construction of houses in the area of the Jackson Medical Mall in Jackson, MS.

The house that Robert and Celeste Bridgeford bought in Curry County, Oregon over a decade ago wasn’t just old. It was dangerous. Water damage and thin walls wracked by decades of severe storms unleashed wide swaths of mold. The damaged floors put the whole family at risk of falling, especially Robert, disabled years ago by a work injury. “We had always planned to replace the house, but... then...life happened,” says Celeste.

The Bridgeford family—like a third of Curry County’s residents—lives in a prefab house that is manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. About 40 percent of the prefab housing in Curry County is substandard. With little industry in the area, many families struggled to find work and couldn’t afford to fix or replace their homes.

This all started changing in 2013 when community groups, non-profits and public agencies joined to propose a pilot project for the state of Oregon. This project would, for the first time, provide low cost loans or other funds to help prefab home-owners repair or replace their homes.

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How Health Insurers Can Help Kids Reach a Healthy Weight

Jun 1, 2016, 12:30 PM, Posted by Katherine Hempstead, Victoria Brown

Innovative approaches in health insurance can help support youth development and prevent chronic diseases.

Attendees visit tables at a health and enrollment fair.

While research shows that access to safe neighborhood spaces for physical activity along with affordable healthy foods help families and kids maintain a healthy weight, it’s often not enough.

Health care economist Mike Bertaut illustrated this reality through a deeply personal and passionate post last month. He opened up about his lifelong struggle with obesity and shared some important lessons about how the health care sector can help children maintain a healthy weight. It’s a moving piece worth reading.

As Mike shows us, health care providers—and health insurers—have a critical role to play, especially for children and families at highest risk for obesity and obesity-related disease.

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