Author Archives: Alonzo L. Plough

New Data on How We’re Measuring a Culture of Health

Sep 12, 2019, 10:00 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Anita Chandra

Four years ago, we introduced a Culture of Health Action Framework and measures to help us track the nation’s progress toward becoming a country that values health everywhere, for everyone. Today we share progress to date.

Woman points to a map.

It’s been four years since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), along with the RAND Corporation, began using a set of national measures to help track our journey toward a culture where every person has a fair and just opportunity to live the healthiest life possible—regardless of where they live, how much they earn, or the color of their skin.

Our goals were to offer some catalytic signals of change with a focus on broader social and economic drivers of health, well-being, and equity. The initial set of measures were used to track how diverse stakeholders, including those outside the traditional health sector, were advancing health and well-being—and if and how health equity was improving.

Developing a clearer picture of what is changing via the Culture of Health measures can guide those who are working collaboratively to accelerate improvements. We offer a few highlights from recent updates to the measures (see also rwjf.org/cultureofhealth) and share some data on our progress to date.

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Global Approaches to Well-Being: What We Are Learning

Jul 29, 2019, 11:45 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

What can we learn from other countries about advancing well-being—a notion of health that extends beyond the absence of disease?

A father and mother hold their baby.

Three years ago, it dawned on me that the concept of “well-being” might lead to a world of learning opportunities that could deepen and broaden the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) work to build a Culture of Health. I was in Copenhagen, at the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, for a meeting about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and developing measures for well-being. As I listened, I realized that many of us in the United States who were working toward improved well-being were not considering what others around the globe were learning as they incorporated well-being into policy and practice.

We were missing out on insights, for example, from years of research and community engagement underpinning New Zealand’s well-being indicators and recently announced national well-being budget. Officially introduced in 2018, the country’s Living Standards Framework redefines the national government’s priorities and measures of progress. It expands beyond economics to also consider policy impacts on human and environmental well-being.

And just a week after the New Zealand budget made international news, the United Arab Emirates was in the headlines with its National Strategy for Wellbeing 2031, which aims to promote social cohesion and prosperity by improving quality of life.

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How Prepared is Your Community for an Emergency?

May 24, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Michelle Larkin

America’s preparedness for managing health emergencies is improving, yet progress is slow and regional inequities persist. Miami-Dade County shows us that actively engaging communities is key to improving local health security.

Relief workers walking past rubble after a tornado.

Hurricanes and tornados, Zika and Ebola, wildfires and flash floods, terrorist attacks and tainted water systems. Threats to American health security are on the rise and could hit U.S. communities at any time. The responsibility for preparing for potential threats and keeping people safe doesn’t fall on any one official or institution but on diverse and diffuse government agencies, health care organizations, public health, non-profit organizations, business leaders and community members.

Since 2013, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has been measuring how ready our nation is to face emergencies that threaten health and well-being through the National Health Security Preparedness Index (Preparedness Index).

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The Impact of Climate Change on Health and Equity

Jun 22, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Tackling the daunting health effects of climate change requires community leaders from all sectors to work together to meet the needs of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

A flooded town after a big storm.

It’s been nearly 10 years, but I still remember the deadly heatwave that hit California back in July 2006 and claimed hundreds of lives.

The blistering heat lasted for 10 days, with temperatures soaring as high as 119 degrees—the highest ever recorded in Los Angeles County. The number of heat-related deaths was estimated to be as high as 450 across nine counties, including Los Angeles County.

During the five years that I worked as director of emergency preparedness and response for the Los Angeles County Department of Health, we constantly battled the health effects of really hot days, wildfires and droughts.

These weather phenomena directly impact health—and they are all linked with global climate change. Just this past weekend, during a trip to Yosemite National Park, President Obama noted, “Climate change is no longer a threat—it’s a reality.”

The people at greatest risk of serious harm from these climate change-related events include children, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, the economically marginalized and communities of color.

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Beyond Seat Belts and Bike Helmets: Policies that Improve Lives

Jan 27, 2016, 9:13 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

RWJF announces up to $1.5 million in new funding to create the evidence base needed for a new generation of policies that improve health, well-being and equity.

Needed: Research to inform laws and policies that elevate community health and equity.

Some of us remember the bad old days when nobody wore seat belts and babies bounced on their mothers’ laps in the front seats of cars. For others, it’s the stuff of legend. Since the advent of seat belt laws in the late 1980’s, the proportion of people buckling up has skyrocketed from fewer than 15 percent to over 90 percent in many states. The laws required people to change their behavior initially and continuously until buckling up was a habit of mind and a social norm. Accordingly, the number of deaths and serious injuries from car accidents has plummeted by more than half.  Other policies—including minimum wage laws, zoning and urban planning, or childcare regulations and guidelines—have had large effects on improving population health.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), we have witnessed firsthand the impact that policies and laws can have in improving health. With this in mind, RWJF is launching Policy for Action (P4A). This new initiative provides up to $1.5 million in funding (or $250K in individual grants up to two years) for research efforts that identify policies, laws and regulations in the public and private sectors that support building a Culture of Health. Our focus is intentionally wide-ranging. We recognize that policies developed both within health and prevention sectors and beyond—in education, economics, transportation, justice, and housing, for example—can ultimately affect the ability of all Americans to lead healthy lives.

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Measuring What Matters: Introducing a New Action Framework

Nov 11, 2015, 11:30 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

It's time to change our culture into one that values health everywhere, for everyone. Introducing a new Action Framework and Measures to help us get there.

A Culture of Health is where communities can flourish and individuals thrive.

Our nation is at a critical moment. There is plenty of data that reveals discouraging health trends: We are living shorter, sicker lives. One in five of us live in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, pollution, inadequate housing, lack of jobs, and limited access to nutritious food.

But there is other data that gives us glimpses of an optimistic future. There’s increasing evidence that demonstrates how we can become a healthier, more equitable society. It requires a shared vision, hard work, and the tenacity of many, but we know it is possible.

Starting with a Vision

Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) shared our vision of a country where we strive together to build a Culture of Health and every person has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life they can—regardless of where they may live, how much they earn, or the color of their skin.

As my colleagues and I traveled throughout the country, we met many of you and heard your views on an integrated, comprehensive approach to health. You told us that in order to achieve lasting change, the nation cannot continue doing more of the same. Realizing a new vision for a healthy population will require different sectors to come together in innovative ways to solve interconnected problems. 

A First Friday Google+Hangout discussion on "Measuring What Matters in Building a Culture of Health" took place on Friday, November 6

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Collaborating Across Sectors to Grow Healthy Kids

Sep 30, 2015, 1:21 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Schools are usually considered to be part of a system separate from the health care system, but they play an important role in building a Culture of Health. See how cross-sector collaborations can ensure children strong starts to healthy, productive lives.

A child eats his lunch at school.

At Cincinnati's Oyler School, I watched as a third-grader received a free eye exam and then pored over the selection of eyeglasses, trying on several pairs, eventually settling on a pair of funky blue frames. He shared that he was looking forward to receiving his glasses, which he'd be able to take home for free the following week. The student’s teacher had noticed that he was having trouble seeing the board in their classroom and was empowered to do something about it. By forging partnerships with nonprofits and government agencies, Oyler has created a vision center, health clinic and dental clinic—all within the school.

Oyler has undergone a transformation over the last decade—from a school plagued by increasing poverty and declining enrollment to a school that is boosting graduation rates and helping improve the surrounding community. Oyler ensures students and their families have access to healthy meals by providing kids breakfast, lunch and dinner and sending them home with food on the weekends. It is part of a movement to create "community schools" that address kids' health needs and get them access to resources that allow them to succeed in the classroom and for years to come.

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What Hurricane Katrina Taught Us About Community Resilience

Aug 27, 2015, 8:59 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Anita Chandra

Hurricane Katrina left a path of destruction, death, and suffering in its wake. Its uneven recovery has taught us valuable lessons about community resiliency that will help us prepare for the next storm and beyond.

Girl playing outside on scrooter.

Ten years ago Risa Lavizzo-Mourey visited Gulfport, Mississippi, and witnessed firsthand the devastation and ruin wrought by Hurricane Katrina. “We may not be able to fix the broken levees, restore ruined cities, house the homeless, or feed the hungry,” she wrote soon after. “That’s not our job. But we most certainly can apply Katrina’s lessons to the wide range of good work that we support...”

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we must reflect on valuable lessons learned from this cataclysmic event, the complexity of recovery, and the disastrous health outcomes that can result from a fundamental distrust between residents and government agencies. Katrina’s devastation and the Gulf’s uneven recovery also have served as an opportunity for studying resiliency—the capacity of communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from adversity whether in the form of a natural disaster, economic downturn, or a pandemic.

This emphasis on community resilience represents a paradigm shift in emergency preparedness, which has traditionally focused on shoring up infrastructure (reinforcing buildings, roads, and levees), improving detection of new hazards to human health, and being able to mount an immediate response to disasters. Katrina and subsequent threats such as Hurricane Sandy, the Florida panhandle oil spill and the H1N1 epidemic have taught us that to be truly prepared for the long-term impact of adversity communities must also develop a different set of assets: those that build strength through promoting well-being and community engagement.

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Clearing the Air in Louisville through Data and Design

May 13, 2015, 12:44 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Louisville, Kentucky ranks among the poorest in air quality and highest in asthma rates among U.S. cities. A new art installation from Propeller Health shows residents real-time changes in the city's air quality, equipping them with the data to reach their goal of becoming one of the healthiest cities by 2020.

Airbare air quality installation in Louisville, Kentucky

I stand in front of an intriguing art installation on a busy street corner in downtown Louisville, KY, and visualize the invisible. It’s a bright orange steel kiosk outfitted with an interactive touch screen that allows passersby to “see” how air pollution levels change around the city in real time while also learning how these pollutants impact the severity of asthma symptoms. Called AirBare, the installation project was funded by RWJF and represents a unique collaboration between visual artists, big data analysts and local health advocates. By “popping” virtual bubbles on the screen, users find out what causes air pollution and what it will take to reverse it. This is relevant information for residents of Louisville, a city that consistently ranks among the lowest in air quality in the nation and has one of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

My visit to the AirBare installation coincided with a conference held in Louisville in March that brought together economists, health policy folks, food experts and, remarkably, Charles, the Prince of Wales, to examine the issue of air quality and the larger concept of sustainability in this Ohio River Valley city. The Prince, a longtime advocate for environmental issues with connections in Louisville, added star power to the Harmony & Health conference, sponsored by the non-profit Institute of Health Air Water & Soil. But there is plenty else to be excited about in Louisville. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, city agencies have collected reams of data on air quality, health outcomes, life expectancy, income inequality, and unemployment, among many other measures. What has emerged is a far better picture of the tough environmental and socioeconomic issues impacting the health and wellbeing of Louisville’s 600,000 residents, and a serious and concerted commitment to build a culture of health.

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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.

Students running on playground.

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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