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Q&A with Pau Gasol: The NBA All-Star's Health Advocacy Off-the-Court

Apr 20, 2015, 9:29 AM, Posted by Merlin Chowkwanyun

It may be NBA playoffs season, but the Gasol brothers are committed to promoting child health year round. RWJF Health & Society Scholar Merlin Chowkwanyun recently sat down with the Chicago Bulls' center to learn about his passion for health advocacy and how he's working to build a Culture of Health in the U.S. and abroad.

Gasol brothers Image credit: Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)

Since moving to the Chicago Bulls last summer, NBA star Pau Gasol has been having one of the most sensational seasons of his basketball career. A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, the new Bulls starting center is entering the playoffs as the league leader in double doubles, averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. In February, he and his younger brother Marc Gasol (of the Memphis Grizzlies) made NBA history as the first siblings to start in the annual All-Star Game: Pau for the East team, Marc for the West.

The two have been equally active off the court. In 2013, after years of work with various philanthropic associations, Pau and Marc formed the Gasol Foundation. It focuses on child health and works towards "a world where all children will enter adulthood physically and mentally equipped to live successful, healthy and productive lives." The Foundation recently launched outreach projects in two areas with severe socioeconomic disadvantage. Vida! Health & Wellness in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles) provides parents and children with instruction in physical activity, physiology, and fitness; healthy cooking and eating; and psychological wellness. L'Esport Suma in South Badalona (Catalonia, Spain) uses sports to promote human development and social cohesion among participants. It is run in conjunction with Casal dels Infants, a long-standing NGO in the region.

Pau has always been a very visible 7-foot presence—literally and figuratively—in Memphis, Los Angeles, and now Chicago, the three cities where he has played. Among other things, that included visiting patients and working with the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and around the world, raising awareness of refugees' plight as a UNICEF ambassador. In 2012, the NBA recognized these and many other efforts with its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given to only one player a season. He recently was named one of ten finalists for the NBA's Community Assist Award, and fans can vote for him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by typing #NBACommunityAssist and #PauGasol. 

Each year, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's site complete a "'knowledge exchange" project designed to foster communication among the general public, academic researchers, and population health practitioners. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I cheered for Pau during his seven seasons with the Lakers but admired him just as much for what he did beyond the game. For my project this year, I wanted to interview Pau about his and Marc's plans because it seemed the Gasol Foundation's goals dovetailed with those of RWJF's Culture of Health initiative in many respects.

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Setting Our Sights on Healthy Media Consumption

Feb 23, 2015, 4:27 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, is vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more from his series.


Childhood obesity is a tremendous threat to the current and future health of our young people. Compared with their healthy-weight peers, obese children face a higher risk for serious health problems, miss more school, have greater psychological stress, and are more likely to become obese as adults. If we don’t do something to reverse this epidemic, the nation’s current generation could be the first in history to live sicker and die younger than their parents’ generation. This is why RWJF recently pledged $500 million over the next 10 years to support strategies aimed at helping all children in the United States grow up at a healthy weight. This new funding increases our investment in preventing childhood obesity to more than $1 billion—the largest commitment we have ever made on a single issue.

We are in it for the long haul, and we have already seen signs of progress. Research published last year showed obesity prevalence among 2 to 5 years old dropped by approximately 40 percent in eight years. But nearly one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. are still obese or overweight, and more than 25 million are at risk for high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes because of their weight.

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Go Back to Basics, Go Back to Schools

Jan 23, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Katherine Vickery

Erin Maughan
Health Care in 2015 logo

If we want to create a Culture of Health in America, a 2015 priority must be to focus on ways to break down the barriers that separate us and keep us from being as effective and efficient as possible. Currently, health care systems, education, housing, and public health work in siloes; they are funded in siloes, and workers are trained in siloes. Yet, people’s concerns and lives are not siloed and a community health culture/system cannot be either.  One of the places to begin coordinated cultural change is in schools.

Schools are a smart choice to target because nearly 98 percent of school-age children, in their formative years, attend school and schools provide access to families and neighborhood communities. The Department of Education’s Full-Service Community Schools Program and Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community Initiative reminds us that, in order for children to be educated, they need to be healthy and there must be a connection between school and community.

There are many school health initiatives in place, such as healthy food choices, physical fitness, healthy policies, school health services, community support, and after-school programs. The potential is there—but so are the siloes. But when schools are appropriately staffed with school nurses, the nurses help break down the siloes; that is because school nurses are extensions of health care, education, and public health and thus can provide or coordinate efforts to ensure a holistic, resource efficient, healthy school community.

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Living Out Their Salad Days: Shaping Healthier Environments for Kids in the Nation’s Schools

Sep 2, 2014, 10:59 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A school lunchroom full of hundreds of young children, happily slurping up ... salad.

If you’re someone who’s ever struggled to get kids to eat their vegetables, it sounds like an impossible dream.

But this is reality at Anne Frank Elementary School, the largest in Philadelphia, with 1,200 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Serving salads was the brainchild of Anne Frank principal Mickey Komins, who had the salads brought in from a local high school cafeteria.

Along with the after-school Zumba and kickboxing classes that the school now sponsors for kids, parents, and staff, healthier food offerings are among the innovations that earned Anne Frank an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee, is a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation to help stem the tide of childhood obesity. It’s at the vanguard of a growing national movement to turn schools into healthier environments, and offer kids fundamental lifelong lessons about maintaining their health.

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The Importance of Emphasizing Healthy Habits for All Children

Aug 20, 2014, 11:00 AM


Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your award from the Western Institute of Nursing! The award honors new nurse researchers. What does it mean for you and for your career?

Carolyn Montoya: In addition to being quite an honor, receiving the Carol Lindeman Award for new researchers from the Western Institute of Nursing motivates me to continue to pursue my research. I am sure people can relate to the fact that being in the student mode is so very intense that once you finish you need some recovery time. Then you start wanting to use the research skills you worked so hard to obtain, and this award has helped to re-energize my commitment to research.

HCB: The award recognizes your study on children’s self-perception of weight. Please tell us what you found.

Montoya: I was very interested to see if there was a difference between how Hispanic children viewed their self-perception in regard to weight compared with white children. Seventy percent of my study population was Hispanic, and my overall response rate was 42 percent. I found that Hispanic children, ages 8 to 11, are not better or worse than white children in their ability to accurately perceive their weight status. Most surprising, and a bit concerning, was the fact that one-third of the sample expressed a desire to be underweight.

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Bedtime Story

Jul 1, 2014, 10:33 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Sarah Meade Reading Pic Sarah, having a read at Granny's house

The globby tears, the quavering voice, the pudgy outstretched hands, the plaintive word “please.” They all come to mind as vividly as if it were yesterday.

Our daughter Sarah was (and still is, at 27) a good soul, but like every small child, she had her moments. And when those “moments” more or less coincided with bedtime, the worst punishment we could mete out was to refuse to read her bedtime stories—or “sturries,” as she called them. We would kiss her good night, and adjourn to the living room, there to sit and look at each other guiltily as our little girl suffered the tortures of the damned.

We listened to that heartbreaking little plea, “But I HAVE to have sturries!” echoing down the hall, and our hearts would break, too. We felt like the worst parents ever

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To Address Childhood Obesity, Companies Must Join the Fight

May 7, 2014, 4:38 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Headshot of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey from the Trenton Times. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MPH

We’re seeing signs of promise in the effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Overall childhood obesity rates have leveled off—and they’ve even declined in some regions and among some age groups.

But it’s far too early to declare victory, writes RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in a new post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. The rate of obesity among U.S. teens, she notes, stands at a “shocking 21 percent, and Hispanic and African-American youth still have higher obesity rates than their white and Asian peers.”

To make more progress, Lavizzo-Mourey says, we need more people and organizations in the fight—particularly the business community.

So what more can be done? On Thursday, May 8, Lavizzo-Mourey and influential leaders from throughout the nation—including many from the business community—met to consider innovative approaches in a forum, “Closing the Gap in Childhood Obesity,” sponsored by RWJF and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in collaboration with Grantmakers in Health. The forum focused on developing solutions to the inequities that exist in childhood health and childhood obesity.

Preventing Youth Violence May Cost Less Than You Think…

Apr 8, 2014, 9:42 AM, Posted by Adam L. Sharp

Adam L. Sharp, MD, MS is an emergency physician and recent University of Michigan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar (2011-2013). He works for Kaiser Permanente Southern California in the Research and Evaluation Department performing acute care health services and implementation research.


Violence is a leading cause of death and injury in adolescents. Recent studies show effective interventions can prevent violent behavior in youth seen in the Emergency Department (ED). Adoption of this type of preventive care has not been broadly implemented in EDs, however, and cost concerns frequently create barriers to utilization of these types of best practices. Understanding the costs associated with preventive services will allow for wise stewardship over limited health care resources. In a recent publication in Pediatrics, "Cost Analysis of Youth Violence Prevention," colleagues and I predict that it costs just $17.06 to prevent an incident of youth violence.

The violence prevention intervention is a computer-assisted program using motivational interviewing techniques delivered by a trained social worker. The intervention takes about 30 minutes to perform and was evaluated within an urban ED for youth who screened positive for past year violence and alcohol abuse. The outcomes assessed were violence consequences (i.e., trouble at school because of fighting, family/friends suggested you stop fighting, arguments with family/friends because of fighting, felt cannot control fighting, trouble getting along with family/friends because of your fighting), peer victimization (i.e., hit or punched by someone, had a knife/gun used against them), and severe peer aggression (i.e., hit or punched someone, used a knife/gun against someone).

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Progress, Hope, and Commitment

Feb 28, 2014, 10:55 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey DC Appearance RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA

Nearly seven years ago, this Foundation made a major commitment to reversing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. We had many reasons, but chief among them was the decades of data showing more and more young people in America facing greater challenges to growing up healthy. We, and many others, knew it was an unsustainable path. So we pledged $500 million to reverse the trend, and joined forces with a wide range of partners to address the many different facets that an effort of this magnitude would require. Big challenges require big commitments.

This week has been one of the most exciting in the last seven years. Research published Tuesday shows a major decline in the obesity rate among children ages 2 to 5 over the last eight years. This is a very real sign of progress, because we know that preventing obesity at an early age is likely to help children maintain a healthy weight into adulthood. The significant decline measured by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention follows progress we’ve started to see over the last 18 months.

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Protecting Infants from Whooping Cough

Jan 6, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Katherine A. Auger

Katherine A. Auger, MD, MSc, a pediatrician in the Division of Hospital Medicine, Department of General Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars program.


A 2006 recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that all adolescents receive vaccines for pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is having a positive impact. A new study that I led shows it is associated with lower rates of infant hospitalizations for the respiratory infection than would have been expected had teens not been inoculated.

The study, published in Pediatrics, found that the CDC recommendation led not only to a significant increase in vaccination rates among teens, but also to a reduction in severe pertussis-related hospitalizations among infants, who often catch the disease from family members, including older siblings.

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