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5 Reasons to Be Excited for the Changes Coming to Menus and Food Labels

May 20, 2016, 11:07 AM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Menu labeling in food retail establishments can help foster a Culture of Health in communities nationwide—here’s why this is great news for American consumers.

A cook at a fast food restaurant prepares a meal.

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled big news from the Food and Drug Administration: Consumers will soon begin to see an updated and increasingly useful Nutrition Facts Panel on packaged foods and beverages. This is the first comprehensive overhaul of the label since 1994.

Soon, those little black-and-white charts will inform you of the amount of added sugars in a product, and include a “daily value” to help you understand the maximum amount of added daily sugars recommended by experts. Serving sizes will also be revised to reflect the amounts of products that people typically consume in the real world. And, calorie counts will be listed in a much larger and bolder font to make them easier to spot.

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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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Measuring What Matters: Introducing a New Action Framework

Nov 11, 2015, 11:30 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

It's time to change our culture into one that values health everywhere, for everyone. Introducing a new Action Framework and Measures to help us get there.

A Culture of Health is where communities can flourish and individuals thrive.

Our nation is at a critical moment. There is plenty of data that reveals discouraging health trends: We are living shorter, sicker lives. One in five of us live in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, pollution, inadequate housing, lack of jobs, and limited access to nutritious food.

But there is other data that gives us glimpses of an optimistic future. There’s increasing evidence that demonstrates how we can become a healthier, more equitable society. It requires a shared vision, hard work, and the tenacity of many, but we know it is possible.

Starting with a Vision

Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) shared our vision of a country where we strive together to build a Culture of Health and, every person has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can—regardless of where they may live, how much they earn, or the color of their skin.

As my colleagues and I traveled throughout the country, we met many of you and heard your views on an integrated, comprehensive approach to health. You told us that in order to achieve lasting change, the nation cannot continue doing more of the same. Realizing a new vision for a healthy population will require different sectors to come together in innovative ways to solve interconnected problems. 

A First Friday Google+Hangout discussion on "Measuring What Matters in Building a Culture of Health" took place on Friday, November 6

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Want a Healthier Workforce? Investing in Community Health Can Pay Off

Aug 18, 2015, 10:40 AM, Posted by Marjorie Paloma

Regardless of what sector they occupy, businesses have a critical role to play in improving the health of their employees and in forging vibrant, healthy communities beyond their own walls.

Beyond Four Walls

Nearly 80% of U.S. employers now offer workplace health promotion programs aimed at improving the health and productivity of their workers. The most comprehensive of these programs—mainly at larger companies—have employees doing yoga poses at lunchtime; 7-minute workouts during breaks, or spinning at the on-site gym. Cafeterias may offer salad bars and heart-healthy entrees while vending machines are stocked with wholesome snacks and water instead of chips and soda. Some companies provide free weight loss counseling or connect employees at risk of heart disease or diabetes with a health coach. The entire workplace may be smoke-free.

But what happens when employees leave the four walls of these healthy workplaces and go home? If they live in neighborhoods with scarce green space, poor access to active transportation, few nutritious food options, or in communities plagued by crime or pollution, it can be very difficult for employees and their families to continue making healthy lifestyle choices. For businesses, the desired impact of their workplace health promotion programs will necessarily be limited.

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Using Social Data to Build Our Evidence Base

Jul 16, 2015, 2:22 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Lori Melichar

Social media offers an exciting opportunity to innovate in health research—but the social data sandbox could use more players to conduct research, share datasets, and generate ideas about what we should be studying.

social-media

What do our tweets reveal about our health? What can we learn from Twitter about the health of those in our community? Can analysis of Twitter activity help predict an epidemic like the flu weeks before a community is inundated with cases?

Nicholas Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University and Thomas Keegan, Deputy Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science are conducting pilot studies in San Francisco and Boston to explore these questions and more. With funding from RWJF, Christakis’s lab uses Twitter posts that include mention of flu symptoms to map how the virus spreads outward from individuals to family, friends, and others in their social networks. This mapping method, which identifies central “influential” individuals, offers the possibility of early detection of the flu and therefore early intervention to prevent its spread. In addition to giving health officials and medical personnel a valuable head-start in responding to and preventing the spread of contagious illness, this kind of insight could also help people make decisions about their own behavior, including getting flu vaccines and being more diligent about hand washing.

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No Time to Waste in Battle to Regulate E-cigarettes

Apr 28, 2015, 8:53 AM, Posted by Joe Marx

The CDC just released alarming data on the new rise of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teens. Unless the FDA acts now, it may get worse with each passing day which is a gamble we can't take.

If the health debate coalescing around e-cigarettes feels familiar, there’s good reason. The uncertainty and questions about this relatively new—and unregulated—product harken back to an age when it was chic for Hollywood stars to blow smoke at the screen, and cigarette brands were plastered all over race cars.  

The tobacco industry knew just what to do to entice young people, and this formula hooked millions upon millions of them and locked in a lifetime of smoking—tragically shortening lives in countless cases.

Even today, just over 50 years since the Surgeon General’s first landmark report on Smoking and Health, tobacco addiction causes a host of cancers and other illnesses. Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing 480,000 people annually and costing over $325 billion in medical expenditures and lost productivity.

In 2014, 13.4% of high school students used and e-cigarette at least once a month, up from 4.5% in 2013.

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Roadmaps Out of Fantasyland: RWJF’s Outbreaks Report and the National Health Preparedness Security Index

Jan 30, 2015, 5:47 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Outbreaks Preparedness Report Graphic

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras,” the late Theodore Woodward, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautioned his students in the 1940s. Woodward’s warning is still invoked to discourage doctors from making rare medical diagnoses for sick patients, when more common ones are usually the cause.

And while many Americans have worried about contracting Ebola—in viral terms, a kind of “zebra”—more commonplace microbial “horses,” such as influenza and measles viruses, continue to pose far greater threats. For instance, a large multistate measles outbreak has been traced to Disneyland theme parks in California—while this year’s strain of seasonal flu has turned out to be severe and widespread.

One obvious conclusion is that many microbes remain a harmful health menace, expected to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans this year. Another—speaking of Disneyland—is that much of America appears to live in a kind of fantasyland, thinking that it is protected against infectious disease.

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Diabetes: The Case for Considering Context

Jan 27, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Tiffany Green

At Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Briana Mezuk, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Division of Epidemiology; and Tiffany L. Green, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research. Both are alumnae of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program.

Tiffany Green Tiffany L. Green, PhD
Headshot of Briana Mezuk Briana Mezuk, PhD

Approximately 30 million U.S. adults currently have diabetes, and an additional 86 million have pre-diabetes. The incidence of diabetes has increased substantially over the past 30 years, including among children. Estimates place the direct and indirect costs of diabetes at a staggering $218 billion annually.1 Like many other diseases, disparities on the basis of race and income are apparent with diabetes. Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and socioeconomically advantaged groups. 

Despite the enormous economic and social costs associated with diabetes, it remains a struggle to apply what we know about diabetes prevention to communities at the highest risk. We have robust evidence from randomized controlled trials that changing health behaviors, including adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise routine and subsequent weight loss, will significantly lower the risk of diabetes. Unfortunately, these promising findings only appear to apply to the short-term. Even worse, results from community-based translation efforts have been much more modest than expected, and show only limited promise of reducing long-term diabetes risk. In response, leaders at the National Institutes of Health have noted that many efforts at translating clinical findings into community settings are “limited in scope and applicability, underemphasizing the value of context.”2

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The Imperative to Collaborate Across Disciplines to Make It Easier to be Healthy

Jan 12, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Chevy Williams

Chevy Williams, PhD, MPH, is a fellow at Experience Institute, where she is learning and applying design thinking to social problems. Williams is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Chevy Williams

Today, we can get access to just about anything in minutes or hours. Smartphones put a world of information literally at our fingertips. Within minutes, most of us can get food we want, entertainment we desire, even travel to another city. But seeing a doctor, an arguably more immediate need, is not so easy. Creating a Culture of Health requires our collective interdisciplinary expertise to make health and health care as accessible and user-friendly as other products and services we use on a regular basis.

Health Care in 2015

Before I left academia, I heard the word “interdisciplinary” tossed around a lot, but I saw it practiced in very safe ways. Typical research teams of grants I was on or would review comprised researchers from only the social, psychological, and health and medical sciences.  As public health faculty, I’d hear statements like “Public health is inherently interdisciplinary.” This may be true since public health draws from multiple disciplines, but I couldn’t help but feel that such statements were more a reflection of inertia than anything else.

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The Best Defense is a Strong Offense: Strengthening Our Nation’s Outbreak Preparedness

Dec 22, 2014, 5:08 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

Outbreaks Preparedness Report Graphic

In the shadow of this year’s Ebola outbreak, the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a new report, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases.

The report finds that while significant advances have been made in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies, gaps in preparedness remain and have been exacerbated as resources have been cut over time.

On the eve of the report’s release, I spoke with Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health to get his thoughts on today’s preparedness landscape—think, Ebola—what to do about shrinking budgets and growing infectious disease threats, and where to go from here.

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