Top 10 Signs We are Building a Culture of Health

Dec 17, 2014, 7:18 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

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.

9. Kids are also eating healthier lunches—and liking them.

In July a study funded by RWJF revealed that 70 percent of elementary school leaders nationwide said their students generally like the healthier school lunches that rolled out in fall 2012; 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students also like the meals.

8. mHealth has arrived! Silicon Valley is putting its innovators to work developing mobile apps that will help us get healthier.

When Apple introduced its latest iPhone in June, much of the hullabaloo was around Healthkit, a new mobile app that will help consumers track their health. Google, Samsung, and Microsoft also rolled out health tracking devices and/or platforms this year, developments sure to appeal to millennials.

7. The new trend in offices—sitting is bad, walking is good.

A Washington Post illustration showing the dangers to our health of sitting all day became wildly popular this year, and more people started taking their meetings on foot—at RWJF, we love our walking meetings.

6. Cycling takes off.

2014 could be called the year of the bicycle. At least 36 urban areas now have bike sharing programs, up from just six four years ago. Even small cities and towns are embracing pedal power—just look at Cyclobia in Brownsville, Texas, one of six communities to win an RWJF Culture of Health Prize this year.

5. Workplace wellness programs are spreading—even cigarette makers are getting with the program.

Over the next three to five years, 48 percent of employers intend to put in place workplace wellness programs that improve productivity and reduce absences.  Among the more surprising ones—in October, Reynolds American, the second-largest U.S. cigarette company, announced that smoking is banned inside its facilities. “We believe this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” a Reynolds American spokesman told U.S. News & World Report. We agree.

4. CVS Health kicks the habit as well, and demonstrates that good health is also good business.

In September CVS stopped selling all tobacco products in its 7,700 stores nationwide, forgoing $2 billion in annual sales. It is the only national drugstore chain so far to take this important step. “Tobacco just doesn’t fit in,”  said CVS’s chief medical officer. CVS’s stock price rose on the news.

3. Voters pass the nation’s first city tax on soda.

In November voters in Berkeley, Calif., passed the nation’s very first tax on sugary beverages, including soda—a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. I know what you’re thinking—Berkeley. But consider all the trends that started in California!

2. College campuses are becoming hotbeds of health.

There are now 1,477 tobacco-free college campuses, up from 446 just four years ago, and the infamous Freshman 15 has shrunk to a Freshman 3 to 6 at many campuses. The Princeton Review even rates college health facilities. A sign perhaps, that the 20-something generation will create their own Culture of Health?

And finally, the Number One sign that we are making progress:

1. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, some 13 million formerly uninsured people are now covered by health insurance.

The rate of uninsured people in the U.S. dropped by more than 30 percent from September 2013 to September 2014. With the next open enrollment period ongoing, the numbers should continue to improve.

So that’s our list, but it’s far from definitive. What do you think we left out? Please share your sign that a Culture of Health is building, in the comments area below. Be great to see a top 20, or 50!

And while you’re at it, any thoughts on what to shoot for in 2015?