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Can Sports Help Young People Heal From Trauma?

Apr 11, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by David S. Cohen

A local Boston organization is using sports to transform the lives of youth suffering from trauma and its emotional aftermath.

 A coach explains a ball game to a group of students.

Sport has the power to change the world...it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. – Nelson Mandela

When I describe the harrowing circumstances of the youth I work with to reporters, philanthropists, family and friends, they can’t believe that I’m describing the lives of young people in America.

Many of these youth have endured deeply traumatic experiences: crime, abuse, incarceration, domestic or community violence, addiction and even sexual exploitation. Often, they don’t want to talk about the issues they’ve faced—or they don’t know how to.

Yet when you put a ball in their hands, they suddenly light up!

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Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going to Give Children a Healthy Start

Apr 5, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

We want all kids to enter kindergarten at a healthy weight. And we believe it’s possible within the decade.

Children dance to a song during school.

Pregnancy through early childhood forms a critical window of opportunity for ensuring children get a healthy start to life.

In March, our program Healthy Eating Research published the most comprehensive examination to date of factors that can increase a child’s risk for obesity early in life. It shows that women who weigh more before they get pregnant, gain excess weight during pregnancy, or use tobacco while pregnant, are more likely to have children who become overweight or obese.

There are a variety of factors beyond prenatal health that also influence a child’s weight. Children form their taste preferences early in life, which is why it’s so important to ensure that they have access to a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains―right when they begin eating solid foods. Play and physical activity are also essential for optimal development. And there’s no reason for young children to drink sugary drinks—milk and water are best. All of these habits, if learned in early childhood, can last a lifetime.

The good news is the country as a whole is making progress in helping more kids start life at a healthy weight: Obesity rates among kids ages 2 to 5 have gone down in recent years.

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Shaking Up Systems To Achieve Health Equity

Mar 17, 2016, 10:00 AM, Posted by Catherine Malone, Dwayne Proctor

In order to achieve greater health equity in America, we need to co-create solutions aimed at transforming the many systems that influence where we live, learn, work and play.

A parent reads to a group of children.

Babies born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium are likely to be lifelong fans of the Bronx Bombers. They are also likely to live seven years less than a baby born a handful of subway stops south near Lincoln Center. The same is true in Las Vegas, where a baby born near The Strip is likely to live nine or 10 years less than someone born west of town.

When it comes to health across cities, zip codes are unequal and so are health outcomes. For example, ethnic minorities continue to experience higher rates of morbidity and mortality than whites. Among the 10 leading causes of mortality in the U.S. (e.g., heart disease, cancer or stroke), minority populations experience the highest rate of death.

We write often about the disparities between population groups and the day-to-day experiences of individuals who, for a myriad of reasons—systemic, geographic or financial—do not have the same opportunity to live as healthy a life as their fellow citizens. Our goal is greater health equity in America, a process that begins with including those most affected and co-creating solutions to improve the systems that negatively impact health. The end result should be decreased health disparities.

Here at the Foundation, we know that health disparities are more often caused by systems related to non-medical determinants of health, which is why we’ve specifically invested more than $457 million since 2014 toward eliminating these pervasive gaps in health outcomes.

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What’s Working to Help Kids Across America Eat Healthy?

Mar 9, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Tina Kauh, Victoria Brown

Healthy Eating Research expands its commitment to equity through a new funding opportunity that reserves awards for innovative studies focused on rural, American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander populations.

Cute preschool girl with bright striped top drinks a carton of milk in a school setting.

The students at Native American Community Academy, a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, believed their school should serve healthy lunches that incorporated foods indigenous to the Navajo culture. So, they set out to turn their idea into a reality.

The students had an ultimate goal in mind: convince their principal to hire a company that would provide these healthier, more traditional meals. But, first, they had to prove that this type of food service could be done.

They started with the basics. With a budget of no more than $2 per person, students headed to a local grocery store and purchased ingredients for a meal they would prepare on their own and serve to their teachers and administrators to demonstrate that offering healthy Native American food at school is both feasible and affordable.

Their menu for the day: vegetarian chili with beans, blue corn meal mush (a traditional Navajo dish), an organic fruit cup and a dish they called the “Beez Kneez,” which had squash, corn, green chili, garlic and onions. The meal received rave reviews. Not only did the principal agree to find a new food service company, she put the students in charge of the task.

This is just one of many stories that reinforce the important role schools play in teaching kids about nutrition and offering healthy meals, snacks and drinks. Among kids in underserved communities (like the students at Native American Community Academy), the role of schools is especially critical.

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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 greet each other on the basketball court. 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.

kidsfastfoodads_part2

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

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

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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 a book. 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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