Princeton, N.J.—Four years after the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Commission to Build a Healthier America issued a set of influential recommendations for improving the health of all Americans, RWJF today announced that it is reconvening the Commission to provide new guidance in two key areas: early childhood and healthy communities.
With the 2009 recommendations as guideposts, the 2013 Commission, made up of independent, non-partisan Commissioners, will identify actions that should be taken now to improve health outside of the doctor’s office. Returning to co-chair the 2013 Commission are Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at The Brookings Institution and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Alice M. Rivlin, PhD, senior economist at The Brookings Institution and former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“Although we have seen progress since the Commission issued its recommendations in 2009, we still have a long way to go before America achieves its full health potential,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA. “We know what works: giving children a healthy start with quality child care and early childhood development programs, and building healthy communities where everyone has an opportunity to make healthy choices. That is why RWJF is reconvening the Commission, to concentrate on these two critical areas.”
The Commission’s 2009 recommendations, which called for breaking down conventional policy-making silos, raised the visibility of the many factors that contribute to health, and helped spark policy discussions. For example, in November 2010, the Obama administration announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a multi-million-dollar public and private investment to improve access to healthy food by bringing grocery stores and farmers’ markets to underserved communities across America. A series of “Healthy Communities” conferences hosted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, other regional Federal Reserve Banks, and RWJF brought together the public health and community development fields and garnered more than 1,000 attendees and 5,000 webcast viewers. The National Prevention Council, chaired by the U.S. Surgeon General and comprising 17 federal departments, agencies, and offices, developed a National Prevention Strategy that echoes the Commission’s recommendations, calling for integration of health criteria into decision-making across sectors. The Council’s report also noted that “health and wellness are influenced by the places where people live, learn, work, and play.”
In 2013, the rationale for focusing on early childhood can be found in the prior Commission’s strong statement of support for this issue. “We found the strongest evidence for interventions that can have a lasting effect on the quality of health and life in programs that promote early childhood development and support children and families,” the Commissioners said in their 2009 report. “Strategies for giving children a healthy start will help ensure future generations of healthy adults. This is indeed a wise long-term investment of scarce resources.”
Fully half of the Commission’s 2009 recommendations addressed strategies to promote health in neighborhoods and communities. The Commission urged communities to look at the future health implications of all decisions and plans they make, and to work with leaders across sectors on new ways to improve health—a recommendation that resonated strongly in the community development field.
Recognizing that, for some people, making healthy choices is difficult because the barriers are too high, the focus for the Commission’s 2013 deliberations will be on how to increase opportunities for low-income populations to make healthier decisions.
Events for the 2013 Commission will include a half-day public meeting on June 19 in Washington, D.C., where experts will provide information on innovative models and programs and key research that the Commissioners should consider in making policy recommendations. The Commission members (see attached list) represent a diverse group of experts with the ability to cross traditional boundaries, mobilize partners to action, and identify practical, timely solutions.
“The U.S. currently invests less than 5 percent of its health care dollars on efforts to prevent illness or help people lead healthier lives—yet that is where the greatest potential for improving health lies,” Dr. Rivlin said. “As a society, investing in the health and prosperity of our nation is one of the most important commitments we can make. We all have a stake in building a healthier America.”
“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America raised awareness of the fact that where we live, learn, work, and play can have a greater impact than medical care on how long and how well we live,” Dr. McClellan noted. “Our nation faces serious challenges, but we also have significant opportunities to improve the health of all Americans. It is time for everyone to work together and build on what we already know is working.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. For more than 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.
Additional Commission information, including the 2009 report and recommendations, can be found at www.rwjf.org/goto/commission.