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How Childhood Experiences Shape Our Nation's Health

Mar 12, 2015, 3:36 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

New findings strongly suggest that Americans are ready for new approaches to address early childhood trauma and stress. To do that in a big way, we need more than science—we need a movement.

I remember when I first learned about research showing that what happens to a person as a child impacts their health later in life. It was 2007, and I was pregnant with my first child. My boss and mentor, Jim Marks, brought the Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACE) study to my attention. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente had surveyed 17,000 Kaiser members about their childhood experiences and compared the answers to those members’ medical records.

The ACE researchers found that the more trauma and stress you experienced as a child, the more likely you were to have cancer, heart disease, and diabetes as an adult. The more likely you were to suffer from chronic depression, be addicted to drugs and alcohol, or attempt suicide. And the more likely you were to drop out of school, be incarcerated, or chronically unemployed.

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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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A Warrior for a Healthier, More Equitable America

Feb 27, 2015, 4:23 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Andy Hyman / RWJF Andrew D. Hyman, JD

Andy Hyman was a warrior for a healthier, more equitable America.

He dedicated his life and career to social justice and progress for the most vulnerable people among us. As a government official, advocate, and philanthropic leader, Andy was tenacious in his pursuit of a singular vision: that everyone in America would have the coverage necessary to access high quality health care—physical, behavioral, or both.

And what incredible success he had.

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A New Approach to Eliminating Health Disparities

Feb 10, 2015, 2:13 PM, Posted by Dwayne Proctor

Spokane Adverse Childhood Experiences Last year, Spokane County received the Foundation's Culture of Health Prize for improving community health by addressing the critical link between poverty, education, and poor health. Here, children play at St. Anne's Center in Spokane, where teachers are trained to catch and address early warning signs that may indicate future problems in school.

I, like many others, have made a commitment to living healthier this year. I am resolved to find and eat a new fruit and vegetable each month, decrease my consumption of meat to a few times a week, and drink at least a half-gallon of water each day. I also plan to laugh more and spend more time outdoors. My personal goals aside, I also find myself more hopeful than at the start of many past years about the state of health in our nation as a whole.

  • More Americans than ever before have access to the health care they need because of the Affordable Care Act;
  • States throughout the nation are making significant progress in helping kids achieve a healthy weight;
  • The disparities gap between black and white Americans’ life expectancies is narrowing.

These bright spots indicate that America is heading down the road to better health—but they only begin to address the challenges many Americans continue to face in accessing good health. As highlighted in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, significant gaps and unmet needs remain.

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We Must All Play a Role in Ending Childhood Obesity

Feb 5, 2015, 1:00 PM, Posted by Sen. Bill Frist, MD

A mother walking with her daughters on sidewalk

We all want our kids and grandkids to grow up happier and healthier than we did. Instead, today’s children are the first generation of young Americans to face the prospect of living their entire lives in poorer health and dying younger than previous generations.

The reason is no mystery. Too many of our children – one in three, according to studies – are overweight. We are allowing, and in some ways encouraging, our kids to consume more calories, more sugar, more fat, more sodium. At the same time we’re enabling a more sedentary lifestyle. Running, jumping, skipping, dancing, biking – today’s children simply don’t move as much as they once did, making it that much harder to keep off the pounds.

The childhood obesity epidemic is having a devastating affect on too many families. Obese and overweight children are sick more often. They too often endure prejudice and bullying at school, leaving them embarrassed and depressed. They miss more school. When they grow up, they have more difficulty leading productive work lives. And they are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses directly linked to obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease. 

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Field Notes: What Cuba Can Teach Us about Building a Culture of Health

Jan 29, 2015, 9:54 AM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden, Susan Mende

MaryJoan Ladden and Susan Mende Trip to Cuba

Ever since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, there’s been growing excitement over the potential for new opportunities for tourism, as well as technology and business exchanges. Most people assume that the flow will be one-sided, with the United States providing expertise and investment to help Cuba’s struggling economy and decaying infrastructure.

That assumption would be wrong. America can—and already has—learned a lot from Cuba. At RWJF, we support MEDICC, an organization that strives to use lessons gleaned from Cuba’s health care system to improve outcomes in four medically underserved communities in the United States—South Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Bronx, N.Y. Even with very limited resources, Cuba has universal medical and dental care and provides preventive strategies and primary care at the neighborhood level, resulting in enviable health outcomes. Cuba has a low infant mortality rate and the lowest HIV rate in the Americas, for example—with a fraction of the budget spent in the United States.

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Preparing Family Caregivers to Provide High-Quality Care for People with Dementia

Jan 22, 2015, 9:00 AM

Tatiana Sadak, PhD, PMHNP, is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016). She is working to promote “dementia caregiver activation,” a process of preparing caregivers to become ready to manage the multiple needs of loved ones with dementia while caring for themselves.

Tatiana Sadak
Aging in America

The well-documented personal and societal burdens of dementia are the central focus of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, which calls for extensive reforms in the delivery of health care for patients with dementia and their family caregivers. RWJF answered this national call to action by funding several innovative dementia health services research projects and nurturing the careers of junior dementia researchers.

I was fortunate to receive RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars funding. It will make it possible for me to focus a majority of my time on improving health services for people living with dementia and for their family care partners—or ‘caregivers.’

Dementia patients suffer brain failure that leads to progressive loss of autonomy and the inability to understand and meet personal health care needs. Clinicians conduct health assessments, create care plans, and treat symptoms, but it is dementia family caregivers who deliver the day-to-day care and health management these patients need. There is, however, considerable variation in their capacity to assist care recipients in making health care decisions, for providing daily care, and for navigating health care systems.

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So Much Data! How to Share the Wealth for Healthier Communities

Jan 14, 2015, 5:15 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

What Counts: Harnessing Data for America's Communities

The world of research and evaluation is experiencing a dramatic increase in the quantity and type of available data for analysis. Estimates are that an astonishing 90 percent of the world’s data has been generated in just the past two years. This flood of facts, figures, and measurements brings with it an urgent need for innovative ways to collect and harness the data to provide relevant information to inform policy and advance social change. “Not long ago, we had a problem of insufficient data,” says Kathryn Pettit, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “Today we have more data than ever before, but we still need to build capacity to use it in meaningful ways.”

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New Year, New Coverage for Millions

Jan 9, 2015, 2:51 PM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

Health Care Dot Gov healthcare.gov

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on progress toward longstanding goals. At RWJF, we’ve spent the better part of four decades advancing solutions to help everyone in our nation gain access to affordable, high quality health care—a goal we reaffirmed in 2014 when we announced our vision for a Culture of Health in America.

Happily, our country has made enormous progress toward this goal in 2014. Health coverage rates improved dramatically last year because of robust enrollment through the health insurance marketplaces, Medicaid, and CHIP. As we enter 2015, we continue to see strong coverage gains, with nearly 6.6 million consumers newly enrolled or renewing through HealthCare.gov.

But let’s not forget that more than 40 million people remain uninsured. There is still more work to be done to make sure all those who are eligible can get the coverage they need and deserve.

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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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