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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.

E-cigarette graphic

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We Went to Oxford and Got Schooled in Primary Care

Apr 23, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden, Susan Mende

As other countries continue to spend far less on health care but perform better on measurable health outcomes, there's opportunity to learn what works abroad and apply those lessons stateside.

Oxford University

It’s a hard notion for many Americans to accept—although we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, we are far from having the best health outcomes. When you look at measures that include life expectancy, infant mortality rates and preventable illness, other countries that spend far less than the U.S. perform better. But in many of these countries people of all ages and socio-economic status are able to easily access primary care that is comprehensive, patient-centered and rooted in local communities.

One of our goals as program officers at RWJF is to look beyond our borders to identify promising practices that might be incorporated into America’s health care system. Last fall we traveled to Oxford, England, to learn first-hand about promising primary care practices in Chile, England, the Netherlands and Canada—all high and middle income countries that spend less on health care yet have better outcomes than the U.S. We attended a conference organized by the Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), an organization supported by Charities Aid Foundation of America through a grant from the RWJF Donor-Advised Fund. TARSC provides support and training to government and civic health organizations, and the conference was the next step after its report, “Strengthening primary care in the USA to improve health: Learning from high and middle income countries.” We came away with a lot of insights from both, but were struck by several themes that were constant throughout.

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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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Three Key Lessons from the Health Care Transparency Summit

Apr 16, 2015, 1:36 PM, Posted by Anne Weiss, Susan Dentzer

Transparency (Image via taxrebate.org.uk)

“There is no single more powerful concept” in transforming health care than transparency—that is, accurate information for everybody about the costs, quality, and other aspects of health care—according to former US Senate Majority Leader and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board Member Bill Frist at the Second National Summit on Transparency in Health Care Costs, Prices, and Quality. Not only is shining the spotlight on costs and quality the key to making health care markets work, Frist said, but it’s also central to delivering the vaunted Triple Aim of better health, better health care, and lower costs. Here are our key takeaways reflecting how much transparency discussions have advanced since the first RWJF sponsored summit in 2013:

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U.S. Army Moves Closer to Achieving Public Health Accreditation

Apr 10, 2015, 12:55 PM, Posted by Pamela Russo

The U.S. Army is gearing up for public health accreditation for the first time, a development that opens the door for collaboration between military and civilian public health departments—leading to better health for all.

military soldier soluting

A decade ago, there was a common maxim heard about governmental public health departments that declared “if you’ve seen one health department; you’ve seen one health department.”

This tongue-in-cheek expression arose in part from the federalist administration of public health, which has resulted in public health codes that vary by state, and department-specific financing and structure. Additionally, this maxim reflected a fragmented and dysfunctional national system that lacked consistency across public health settings.

Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is working to realize a new era of public health defined by the application of strong and universal public health standards. That’s why the Foundation is a proud supporter of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) and their efforts to establish national performance standards for public health agencies across the United States.

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Design That Heals: The American Institute of Architects Rewrites the Rules

Apr 9, 2015, 9:27 AM, Posted by Sheree Crute

The South Bronx's Via Verde, an award-winning affordable housing complex designed around equity and social cohesion, shows us a new era of healthy design is here—and it's contagious.
 

Via Verde (Image credit: David Sundberg/Esto)

Each winter, Raquel Lizardi and her heartiest garden club members brave the New York City cold to tend their community’s apple trees. “They are very delicate,” Lizardi says, sharing her training at GrowNYC, a nonprofit that seeks to create a healthier environment in the city, block by block. Their efforts ensure that the small orchard yields barrels of sweet Red Delicious, Gala, and slightly tart McIntosh apples for Lizardi and her neighbors in the fall.

Come spring, the group turns its attention to planting enough organic spinach, collards, kale, berries, tomatoes, other vegetables, and herbs to keep all of their tables filled with free, fresh produce.

The orchard, gardens, and grove of evergreens where Lizardi and her neighbors come together are a center of community activity at Via Verde/The Green Way, an award-winning, affordable housing development that rises above a quiet street just off bustling Third Avenue in the South Bronx. Built on a former garbage-strewn lot and Brownfield in 2012, Via Verde is now an international symbol of healthy design achievement.

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If Victor Cruz Tells Us to Eat Our Veggies, Will Kids Listen?

Apr 8, 2015, 9:30 AM, Posted by John R. Lumpkin

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is proud to be a part of the new FNV campaign, using lessons from the marketing industry to make the healthy choice the easy and cool choice by promoting fruits and vegetables.

As my colleague Alonzo Plough recently pointed out, food and beverage marketing to kids is a big deal. Companies spend billions of dollars a year on advertising to reach young people everywhere they are: watching TV, playing digital games and using apps, and connecting to friends and family on social media―the ways to catch their attention seem to grow day by day.

Companies spend billions of dollars because marketing works. Ads can influence the foods and beverages children prefer, purchase, and consume. Even parents can have a hard time seeing through marketing.

That’s why I’m so excited about the launch of FNV.

I was recently at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit where FNV (which stands for fruits and vegetables) was unveiled—a campaign to put the same promotional muscle behind fruits and veggies as other companies put behind soda, candy, and potato chips.

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From High Schooler to Activist: How I Came to Build a Culture of Health in East LA

Apr 7, 2015, 2:12 PM

A young activist tells the story of her journey empowering students to influence the health in their local community. This article was originally published in Equal Voice for Families on January 26, 2015.

I was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2009. The school sits on top of a hill, overlooking the city. We had a great view, but our predominantly Latino student body did not have the resources to aspire. Books were dated, classes were crowded, there were few counselors and there weren’t enough teachers. My working-class community struggled with jobs and survival. I did not know how to interpret and change what I, and many of my friends, were experiencing—peer-on-peer violence, racial tensions, gang violence, broken families, and poor health, all the outcomes of an impoverished community.

My school friend Cindy fell into gang life at an early age. I saw her investment in the gang increase until she eventually stopped attending school and I lost contact. I began to wonder if any of the adults at our school tried to support her. Looking back, I believe that Cindy’s path was partially the result of the lack of student support in our education system.

One day, I found an opportunity to create change, or should I say, it found me.

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How Can We Use a Wealth of Data to Improve the Health of Communities Across the Nation?

Apr 6, 2015, 11:15 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

There's a wealth of data that paints a picture of the health challenges and successes of communities across the country. It's critical to use that data to measure progress in order to raise the grade of our nation's health.

Signs of Progress - Philadelphia

For local health officials across the nation, the release of the 2015 County Health Rankings gives communities an important opportunity to reflect on how they are doing when it comes to the health of their residents. The Rankings are a snapshot capturing the healthiest or least healthy counties in a given state.

But the Rankings also give communities a chance to delve deeper and explore beyond the headlines and the misrepresentative “best and worst” lists. Through the Rankings, we can really dive into data that can help us understand how to build a Culture of Health for citizens in all counties across the nation.

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Use Data for Health, Not for Data’s Sake

Apr 2, 2015, 10:10 AM, Posted by Hilary Heishman

Using data for health is most powerful when you know what problems you're trying to solve. The latest Data for Health report looks at how we can harness that data to source community solutions.

Financial chart, close-up

A few months ago, community members and leaders from an array of local organizations came together in Philadelphia, Des Moines, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Charleston, to talk about ways they and others around them use data to improve health—as well as the hopes, concerns, and challenges they face in collecting and sharing data.

After listening to and reading about these conversations that were part of the Data for Health listening series, this piece of practical wisdom captured in a new report on what we learned from those meetings jumped out at me:

The real question is not 'What data do you want to collect?' but rather, 'What problem do you want to solve?'

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