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Can Virtual Reality Make Us More Empathetic?

Jun 29, 2016, 2:00 PM, Posted by Deborah Bae

Virtual reality is proving to be a tool to help build the human capacity to care about the realities of others—something that’s needed to tackle social issues like homelessness.

A man tests out a virtual reality headset. Photo Credit: Maurizio Pesce/ Flickr via CC by 2.0

San Francisco media took the unprecedented step of putting aside competitive interests and devoted an entire day of coverage to the issue of homelessness in the Bay Area. Frustrated at inaction over the city's homeless crisis, local newsmakers have flooded the airwaves and filled pages of newsprint to focus attention on the problem and potential solutions.

Homelessness is not just something San Franciscans are struggling with. On any given night, over 1/2 million people in the U.S.—including children and families—are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homeless.

Tackling tough issues like homelessness requires empathy. Having empathy for those in need is a vital first step toward action. We’ve seen events that enable people to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a homeless person be effective at helping build understanding and compassion for the homeless. But what would it mean if people could walk a virtual mile in another’s shoes? Could the immersive nature of virtual reality help us reach more people and build lasting empathy?

Working with researchers at Stanford University, that’s exactly what we hope to find out.

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Google Hangout Convenes Culture of Health Prize Winners to Discuss Lessons Learned in Creating Healthy Communities

Aug 19, 2014, 5:55 PM

Watch the recording of the August 14 Google Hangout where three RWJF Prize winners discuss what it takes to build a Culture of Health.

This past June, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the six winners of its 2014 Culture of Health Prize, which honors communities that place a high priority on health and bring partners together to drive local change. Each community, selected from more than 250 across the nation, received a no-strings-attached $25,000 cash prize in recognition of their accomplishments.  

Last week, RWJF brought together representatives from two of this year’s winners and one from last year in an online discussion, “Building a Culture of Health: What Does it Take?” Each community representative spoke about the barriers they’ve faced, how they overcame them and the role partnerships play in their ongoing success.

The discussion was moderated by Julie Willems Van Dijk, co-director of the RWJF County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and director of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

Alisa May, executive director of Priority Spokane and representing 2014 winner Spokane County, Wash., said that as a largely rural community of 210,000 people they’ve placed an emphasis on improving education at all levels. And they took a data-centric approach.

“Priority Spokane—which is a collaboration of community leaders—looked at the data, pulled community members together to talk about the issues that were most important to them, and educational attainment rose to the surface,” said May.

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County Health Rankings 2014: Western New York

Mar 26, 2014, 12:15 PM

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The County Health Rankings, a joint project between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.

One of the communities highlighted in the 2014 report is Western New York. Across eight counties, the region struggles with a depressed economy and high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Making Healthy Choices Easier

They used the County Health Rankings to better understand their challenges and look at what types of programs and initiatives would help.

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Innovative community partnerships include a Baby Café Program where moms can get breastfeeding support and connections to community resources to ensure every baby has a healthy start; a Healthy Streets initiative to create better infrastructure for a healthy community; and a Farm to School Program to support healthier schools. The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings continues to show us where we live matters to our health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

County Health Rankings 2014: Grant County, Kentucky

Mar 26, 2014, 12:03 PM

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The County Health Rankings, a joint project between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.

One of the communities highlighted in the 2014 report is Grant County, Kentucky. The county has seen tremendous progress in its overall health outcomes and the health rankings, moving up from 89th to 60th place this past year relative to the state's other counties.  

Partnerships to Improve Health

The rural county — a "land of horses and tobacco farms" — has found that partnerships to improve health are absolutely essential, and that one of the advantages that smaller, more rural communities have is that it's relatively easy to bring together the business community, the churches, the schools and other groups.

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Innovative community programs include Fitness for Life Around Grant County, or FFLAG, which led the company Performance Pipe to provide employees with healthier food options; the four-week Biggest Winner Challenge, which focuses on getting people to try out different kinds of physical activity; and tobacco-free policies on school campuses. The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings continues to show us where we live matters to our health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Brazil Group Sends a Memorable Pedestrian Safety Message

Sep 6, 2012, 4:35 PM

How do you get a public health message to stick? That’s the ultimate quest. And clever thinking is behind some recent campaigns including PSAs by “Glee” cast members to urge  teens to stop texting when they drive, and the “Tips From Former Smokers” series from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the potential ravages of smoking.

A novel and very memorable campaign by a Rotary Club in Brazil joins the list. As reported by The Atlantic Cities, the club was determined to help lower the country’s high pedestrian fatality rate and so engaged some local athletes to make absolute sure that pedestrians can safely cross the crosswalk, with no cars in the way.

The campaign, called “Respect Life, Respect the Crosswalk,” goes to new heights in pursuit of the public’s health. Watch the video to see how...

>>Read the full story from The Atlantic Cities.

>>Watch the video:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

2012 County Health Rankings Launch Today: Q&A with Patrick Remington

Apr 3, 2012, 1:34 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Remington_Patrick Patrick Remington, County Health Rankings Project Director and Associate Dean at the University of Wisconsin

The 2012 County Health Rankings, a joint project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, were released this morning. For the third year in a row, the reports rank the health of nearly every county in the nation and show that much of what affects health occurs outside of the doctor’s office. The County Health Rankings confirm the critical role that factors such as education, jobs, income and environment play in how healthy people are and how long they live. NewPublicHealth spoke with Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, County Health Rankings Project Director and Associate Dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, about this year’s release.

>>Join our Twitter Q&A TODAY, April 3, at 1 p.m. EST, and follow the rest of the NewPublicHealth coverage of the 2012 County Health Rankings launch.

NewPublicHealth: What’s new for the County Health Rankings this year?

Dr. Remington: The County Health Roadmaps are new. The County Health Roadmaps project includes several efforts to build connections with local communities and national partners and leaders, including grants to coalitions across the U.S. that are working to improve the health of people in their communities; grants to national organizations to activate local leaders and affiliates to improve health; a prize program to recognize communities taking action whose promising efforts will likely lead to better health; and tools and resources to help groups working to improve the health of people in their communities.

The County Health Roadmaps is our response to the demand that has arisen by communities to help them find solutions. We were pretty good in the first two years at pointing out problems. Over the last year, we heard loud and clear that’s not good enough to just point out problems. The Roadmap is just one tool. It’s certainly not the automobile; it’s not the vacation plan. It is just a tool that communities need to use to come together and decide where they want to go and the Roadmap can tell you how to get there.

But an even better question is what is the same. We want the County Health Rankings to be an annual check-up that can be counted on by communities to provide residents with a way to compare the health of where they live to other counties in their state. Although we might add a measure or two each year, I think the most important message is that we’ve continued to use the same approach to measure and rank the health of counties.

NPH: What is that approach?

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