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RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America

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Commission Seeks Ways to Foster Better Health Outcomes and Improve the Health of All Americans

Foundation issues new report which finds poor, minority and middle-class Americans with less education live sicker and die younger.

    • February 27, 2008

Despite spending more on health care than any other nation, the United States ranks at or near the bottom among industrialized countries on key health indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy. Furthermore, a range of social factors is keeping this country from being as healthy as it should be and hurting our nation's economy, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-supported report.

Coinciding with the release of this report, the Foundation announced the formation of a nonpartisan national commission to identify and promote workable, evidence-based solutions to address the many non-medical influences on health and improve opportunities for more Americans to make healthier choices. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Commission to Build a Healthier America will investigate how factors such as education, environment, income and housing shape and affect personal behavioral choices. Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., former FDA commissioner and administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Alice Rivlin, Ph.D., former director of the Office of Management and Budget, will co-chair the commission.

In Overcoming Obstacles to Health, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) describe the current health profile of Americans, looking specifically at how education, income, race and ethnicity play a role in health. The report finds that education plays a large role in health; additionally, health gaps are evident within racial and ethnic groups. For example, college graduates live longer and have better health than those with only some college or high school education. Furthermore, college graduates outlive high school graduates by more than six years.

The report suggests that improving Americans' health requires taking a broader, deeper look at how health is shaped across lifetimes and generations. Finding solutions to make America healthier requires looking beyond the medical care system to acknowledge and address the many other factors that also can determine a person's health.