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Is the Nation Ready for an Emergency?

Apr 25, 2016, 10:00 PM, Posted by Lori Grubstein, Paul Kuehnert

New findings aim to help local governments, public health departments and others find ways to better protect communities across the nation from the health impacts of disasters.

Paramedics load a gurney into an ambulance.

Over the last year, public health crises near and far have captured our attention. From contaminated drinking water in Michigan, Colorado and West Virginia, to concerns about the potential Zika exposure throughout much of the Southeastern states, there doesn’t seem to be a day that these public health problems aren’t in the news.

We know that where we live often determines how vulnerable we are to public health disasters. If we want everyone—regardless of what neighborhood, city, or state they live in—to have access to health and well-being, we must work together to combat threats. And we must focus our resources on those that need them most. When we work together, our communities can be resilient and ready for inevitable challenges. Safeguarding and building our health security ensures the collective health and well-being of communities across the nation.

That’s where the National Health Security Preparedness Index comes into play.

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Our Challenge: Measuring Mood for Apple’s ResearchKit

Apr 18, 2016, 9:45 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

This $500K competition seeks proposals for studies that will further our understanding of mood and how it relates to daily life.

The Mood Challenge for ResearchKit

We know that mood is one of the keys to health. Whether you are happy, depressed, stressed out, anxious—all can impact your physical well-being. However, our knowledge of the relationship between mood and many social and economic factors—such as weather, pollution, access to food, sleep, and social connectedness—remains limited, despite decades of study.

Furthering scientific understanding of mood is critical to building a Culture of Health, and ResearchKit provides a novel way to build that understanding. Mobile-based clinical studies mounted with ResearchKit present exciting opportunities to increase participation in studies and to change the relationship between researchers and the people enrolled in those studies, which is why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is sponsoring the Mood Challenge for ResearchKit.

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Can a Single Question Help Families Confront Poverty?

Apr 13, 2016, 10:30 AM, Posted by David Krol

A new recommendation for pediatricians aims to help the one in five children in the United States who live in poverty.

 Doctor sees infant held by father at San Xavier Health Center Tucson, Arizona.

During most of the week, I spend my time here at RWJF working on programs to develop leaders in health and health care and to address childhood obesity. But on Friday afternoons, I am at Eric B. Chandler Health Center in New Brunswick, N.J., seeing children and families. Eric B. Chandler is a federally qualified health center, and we serve a lot of poor, immigrant families. The children I see are more likely to have asthma or tooth decay than are children who live not too far away. They’re also more likely to be overweight, and to face adverse childhood experiences like family trauma or violence.

In some sense, this isn’t surprising. Poverty is one of the biggest health risks that children face today. One in five young people in the United States lives in poverty, and it’s present in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. My colleagues James Marks and Kristin Schubert recently described what lasting impact poverty can have on children.

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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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Why Every Street Should Be an Open Street

Mar 29, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Sharon Roerty

How can streets get people moving and improve health? When they are open, with room for people of all ages to bike, walk, play, and build community.

Every street should be an open street—open to people with and without wheels, all abilities, all ages, all people. Streets belong to everyone. They connect us to each other and the places where we live, learn, work, and play—across neighborhoods, cultures, and economic status.

Streets are the vascular system of our cities and regions. They let us explore and experience our communities and all that they have to offer.

Most of the time, however, they are overrun by cars. At peak hours, traffic clogs the main arteries, automobile fumes foul the air, and blaring horns assault the eardrums.

What if one day a week we all left our cars at home and took to the streets on our own two feet? What would happen?

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Seeking Insights From Partnerships that Advance Health

Mar 21, 2016, 12:00 PM, Posted by Emmy Ganos

A new survey aims to reveal how communities across the nation are using collaboration to safeguard health.

Healthier Communities

The health and well-being of a community is far too complex to be the responsibility of the health care sector alone. New Hampshire’s Greater Monadnock region has figured that out. Their Council for a Healthier Community is working with local organizations, businesses, community leaders, and citizens to make this region the healthiest community in the nation by 2020. As part of that ambitious goal, the coalition is exploring a Living Wage campaign, since income and health are inextricably linked. Healthy Monadnock has enrolled employers in the cause, and is encouraging residents to patronize those companies and organizations who support a living wage.

The Greater Monadnock region is just one example of the growing number of cross sector collaborations emerging across the nation, in which the health care sector is just one player on a larger stage. In these collaborations businesses, government agencies, community groups, and schools work together with traditional health care institutions to build a Culture of Health for all, no matter where they live, work, learn, or play.

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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 the Connection Between Residential Segregation and Health?

Mar 16, 2016, 7:00 AM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz

Residential segregation is a fundamental cause of health disparities. We need to take steps that will reduce health risks caused by segregation and lead to more equitable, healthier communities.

Graphic illustration depicting residential segregation from 2016 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

For some, perhaps the mere mention of segregation suggests the past, a shameful historic moment we have moved beyond. But the truth is, residential segregation, especially the separation of whites and blacks or Hispanics in the same community, continues to have lasting implications for the well-being of people of color and the health of a community.

In many U.S. counties and cities, neighborhoods with little diversity are the daily reality. When neighborhoods are segregated, so too are schools, public services, jobs and other kinds of opportunities that affect health. We know that in communities where there are more opportunities for everyone, there is better health.

The 2016 County Health Rankings released today provide a chance for every community to take a hard look at whether everyone living there has opportunity for health and well-being. The Rankings look at many interconnected factors that influence community health including education, jobs, smoking, physical inactivity and access to health care. This year, we added a new measure on residential segregation to help communities see where disparities may cluster because some neighborhoods or areas have been cut off from opportunities and investments that fuel good health. 

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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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