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Author Archives: Catherine Arnst

Disrupting the Status Quo: Seeking Innovations from Low-Resource Communities

Nov 4, 2015, 3:03 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

A call for proposals seeks to support evaluation of disruptive innovations that improve the health of low-resource communities—without increasing costs.

Brownsville Belden Community Garden

Many of the resources that influence whether or not people are healthy vary widely from one community to the next. Income, education and employment levels, access to quality, affordable health care, the availability of social services, and the cultural and physical environment—all have a significant impact on health outcomes. Poorer communities, lacking in resources may struggle to offer all the components that create a healthy environment to live, learn, work and play.

By necessity, however, these low-resource communities often find new and creative ways to do more with less to promote health.  In an effort to uncover such fresh and disruptive approaches to improving health in these communities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is issuing a call for proposals.

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It’s Not Just the Watch: Apple Also Helping Cancer Patients

Mar 9, 2015, 11:21 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

Laurie Becklund Laurie Becklund (photo by Bob Barry)

“I am dying literally, at my home in Hollywood, of metastatic breast cancer ... For six years I’ve known I was going to die, I just don’t know when.”

That was written by renowned journalist Laurie Becklund, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent, shortly before she died on Feb. 8 at age 66. Her powerful Los Angeles Times essay was not a lament, however, but a fierce call to action for better cancer research; informed by much, much better data.

As she noted, each cancer patient’s disease is unique, yet there is no system in place to gather data on these tens of thousands of individual diseases. If there were, the data would enable both lab research and clinical trials to be far more efficient, and effective. “The knowledge generated from our disease will die with us because there is no comprehensive database of metastatic breast cancer patients, their characteristics, and what treatments did and didn’t help them,” Becklund wrote. “In the big data era, this void is criminal.”

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Poll: People Worry about Far More than Disease When it Comes to Health

Mar 3, 2015, 9:52 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

Q&A with Robert Blendon, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


This week a public opinion poll was released by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health asking people to list the factors most likely to cause ill health in adults. The top five included lack of access to high-quality medical care (42%), and viruses or bacteria (40%)—not a surprise—but also such socio-economic factors as personal behavior (40%), high stress (37%), and exposure to air, water, or chemical pollution (35%). And a majority (54%) said that being abused or neglected in childhood is an extremely important risk factor for ill health later in life.

Robert J. Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, led the poll and recently talked to RWJF Media Director Catherine Arnst about some of the key results. (Both questions and answers were edited for clarity)  

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Top 10 Signs We are Building a Culture of Health

Dec 17, 2014, 7:18 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

Two daycare teachers play with a group of young children outside.

Last January the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation alerted the world to its new strategy: To build a Culture of Health for all, one that would allow every one of us to make healthy choices wherever we live, work, and play. A big reach, we know, but we are nothing if not optimistic. So, 12 months on, we asked ourselves—How’re we doing? Pretty good, as it turns out. Here are the top 10 signs that America is moving towards a Culture of Health (in no particular order).

10. The evidence is in—kids are beginning to slim down.

Research published in February shows continued signs of progress toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic: Obesity prevalence among 2 to 5 year olds dropped by approximately 40 percent in eight years, a remarkable turnaround. There is still much work to do in this area, but at least our youngest kids can look forward to a healthier future.

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“Tobacco Just Doesn’t Fit In:” CVS Exec Gives Story Behind the Story

Oct 22, 2014, 4:01 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

CVS Employee Unpacking Shopping Basket Stop Tobacco Signs in Back

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—www.ShopTobaccoFree.org—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?

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Special Olympics Holds Lessons, and Inspiration, for All of Us

Jun 24, 2014, 2:30 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst


Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

—Special Olympics motto

The other day I cheered myself hoarse during a swim relay for a team from Maryland that put their all into the race. In fact, the whole viewing crowd cheered on this team. When they finished, the athletes were jubilant, hugging each other and their opponents, thrilled by their performance in this national event. It didn’t seem to bother them much that they finished last.

The 2014 USA Games for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest organization for people with intellectual disabilities, was held in New Jersey June 14-21. Some 3,500 children and adults from all 50 states competed in 16 different sports, and the vast majority took tremendous pleasure in the pure joy of athletics. Sure, plenty were fiercely competitive, but they were also happy and proud to have the opportunity to compete to the best of their ability.

That was pretty inspirational to the 110 staff members from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who volunteered at the Special Olympics.

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A New Holiday Tradition—Tasty Recipes that are Healthy, Too

Nov 26, 2013, 5:01 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst


Thanksgiving is almost upon us, ushering in a month-long season of holiday parties, groaning boards of food, favorite family recipes, cookie swaps, and an extra five pounds around the waistline. Instead of just giving in to the excess and making January the month of dieting, perhaps we could make a few adjustments. I’ve asked around the Foundation staff for some healthy holiday recipes instead of the usual green bean casserole and cream-laden sides. Here are some tried and true alternatives, that are kid–friendly as well!

In fact, why not invite any children about the house (or adults who are still kids at heart) to help whip up some of these dishes. Children love to grate, stir, and shake, and the older ones will go at chopping with a vengeance. It’s never too early to teach them to cook, as discussed on this blog a few days ago.

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Get Out of the Drive-Thru Lane. Learn to Cook!

Nov 22, 2013, 1:32 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst


Some statistics worth pondering: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends only 33 minutes a day on food preparation. Just over half of Americans bother to cook every day. On the other hand, 33 percent of children and 41 percent of teenagers eat fast food, every single day.

These fast food children are consuming 126 additional calories, and the teens 310 extra calories, than if they had avoided the chains, says Fast Food Facts 2013, a new report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and funded by RWJF. Most of these children are eating adult meals, too, not the smaller-portioned children’s meals on offer. Not that it would matter, since less than one percent of all kids’ meal served at fast food chains meet recommended nutrition standards.

It’s not much of a stretch to link the lack of home cooking, a diet of fast food, and the fact that a third of U.S. children and adolescents are obese. So, what’s a parent to do? Well for one thing, we could learn to cook.

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Scott Simon, His Mom, and Twitter: A Very Public Death

Jul 31, 2013, 4:06 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

NPR Host Scott Simon

Scott Simon is a popular radio host on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday. His mother, Patricia Lyons Gilband, a former actress, died July 29 at 7:17 p.m., in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a Chicago hospital. But you might already know that, if you are one of Simon’s 1.2 million Twitter followers, because he has been live Tweeting her final days since July 23.  

Judging by the many articles, comments, retweets, and reactions bouncing around the web, Simon’s 140-character dispatches from the frontline of death have been moving and inspirational for most—and gag-inducing for some, who believe death should be a private affair. Having lost a parent and a spouse—and both died in an ICU—I’m with the first group.

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Alzheimer's: Let's Search for Better Care Models as Well as a Cure

Jul 9, 2013, 2:00 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

An elderly disabled man walks with a stick on a path in a garden.

The New Yorker recently ran an excellent article by Jerome Groopman MD, Before Night Falls, about efforts to find a drug that can delay or even stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. What struck me most about this thorough piece of reporting, however, is that it covers much the same ground as a feature I wrote for Businessweek—in 2007. Despite the huge amount of money and other resources devoted to Alzheimer’s research, the quest for an effective treatment has moved forward by mere fractions in the past six years.

Almost every drug I wrote about in 2007 has since failed, which means it will be at least a decade, and probably far longer, before an effective treatment wins regulatory approval. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in the U.S. this year, and 5.2 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025, the number of people living with the disease will likely reach 7.1 million. So while we’re waiting for a cure, the medical community should also be developing better methods for caring for the millions of patients who are suffering right now.

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