Breaking Through on the Social Determinants of Health and Health Disparities

An Approach to Message Translation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) convened the Commission to Build a Healthier America (2008-2009) to explore why some Americans are so much healthier than others and why America is not the healthiest country in the world. The vision was to impanel a diverse, multi-sector, nonpartisan Commission of leaders to investigate the issues and identify solutions, outside of the health care system, to improve the health of all Americans.

The Commission’s purposeful messaging approach—guided by market research and public health research findings as well as communications principles and a creative content development process—helped the Commission craft a focused messaging framework. The process was central to success and worth the upfront investment given the challenges the Commission faced in advancing a sensitive and complex set of issues among diverse decision makers from across the political spectrum. The messages were used by Commissioners representing different sectors and points of view. Given the potential for particular issues related to social determinants and health disparities to have divided Commissioners, this acceptance was an important accomplishment—and a measure of success for how the topics were positioned.