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Lifting the Weight of Incarceration

May 3, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Michael Matza

Is your organization creating a healthier community through sport? Then apply for the 2018 Sports Award! Learn how the 2016 winner, InnerCity Weightlifting, is helping former inmates find success after incarceration.

InnerCity Weightlifting

An hour before his next client is due, Edgardo “Chino” Ortiz is in the glass-walled break room of InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) in Cambridge, Mass., poring over a study guide to become certified as a personal trainer. Fiercely focused on achieving that goal, he is rarely separated from his worksheets.

“Prescribe RICE,” he says, circling the acronym for “rest, ice, compression and elevation” on a sample quiz question about injury.

All across America, men and women with similar ambitions are prepping for careers in physical fitness. But few share the unique drive that fuels 33-year-old Chino’s determination. For him, getting certified as a fitness trainer is a life-changing turning point, built on his smarts, his talent, and his grit.

Chino recently completed a sentence of five years in a Massachusetts state prison for shooting a man in the leg over drugs. For most former offenders, finding a good job is notoriously difficult. But Chino’s future looks promising because of his connection to ICW. 

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Can We Create a Fair Shot at Health?

Apr 27, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Sheri Johnson

Generations of inequity have led to health disparities. Solutions that involve those affected and consider historical trauma will help close the gaps.

Police officer shakes hands with smiling citizens.

My sons are both in college, one at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the other at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Raising African American boys into adulthood was often stressful. Despite the many advantages and supports we had as a family while they were growing up, I worried about their safety, whether their schools would see and nurture their greatness despite the color of their skin, and whether they would be able to live up to their potential.

As a public health practitioner, I’ve also had the opportunity to observe the amazing efforts of so many caregivers and families with limited resources who heroically “make a way out of no way.” I’ve seen what it takes, for example, for a mom to just get her children to a doctor’s appointment when they each go to a different school because the schools in their neighborhood are not the best she wants for them. I’ve seen the enormous emotional, physical, and mental energy families with fewer economic resources spend simply on surviving day to day—and I know that statistically, the burden of poverty falls particularly heavily on children of color.

I’m now director of University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, which has for nearly a decade compiled the annual County Health Rankings. The rankings have helped communities across the nation see how where we live makes a difference in how well and how long we live. This year we’ve added a layer of analysis that hits home for me, highlighting the meaningful health gaps that persist by race.

We wanted to cover both place and race because county-level rankings can mask the deep divides we have in the health of different groups within communities. Even in counties with the best rankings—and the highest overall level of opportunity for good health—not everyone in every part of the county has access to opportunities for safe housing, adequate physical activity or a good education.

For me, knowing we still have gaps to fill is a call to action, especially as we mark National Minority Health Month. So how do we overturn the current reality and give everyone a fair shot?

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How Housing Impacts the Health of People Living With HIV/AIDS

Apr 12, 2018, 3:00 PM, Posted by Safiya George

Inadequate housing is a tremendous barrier to achieving good health—especially when dealing with a chronic illness. A team of researchers is examining largely rural counties in West Alabama to assess the impact of stable housing on the well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS.

A row of homes.

We know that where we live, work, learn, and play greatly impacts our health. Especially important among these, and too often overlooked, is the impact of where we live. Housing is tied to health in powerful and inextricable ways. Think about the steps you take each morning to care for yourself, or each evening when you go to sleep. What would happen if you didn’t know where you would sleep that night, or weren’t sure how long you had until you were forced to find new shelter? Would you still take the time to go through your routines, if there was nothing routine about them? Would you set up relationships with health providers if you might not live in the same community next month—or even next week?

I faced homelessness twice and they were the most stressful experiences in my life. Lack of access to stable housing can feel like an insurmountable barrier to achieving good health and well-being—even more so when one is dealing with a chronic illness or other health challenges.

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Three Reasons to Consider Later School Start Times

Feb 8, 2018, 2:00 PM, Posted by Tracy Costigan, Tracy Orleans

Research suggests more sleep for teens could yield significant health and academic benefits. To achieve these benefits, schools across the nation are experimenting with later start times for middle and high schools.

Student overwhelmed with homework.

“I fell asleep on the bus and usually wasn’t really awake until after first period ended,” says Andrew Schatzman, whose school day in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County ("Fairfax") used to begin with a 6:30 a.m. pickup time. When district leaders moved the high school start time to 8:10 a.m., it made a big difference in his life. “He’s still a teenager, so nothing is easy, but now he’s ready to go,” says Andrew’s mom, Liz. “I’m awake enough to do what I have to do in first period,” adds Andrew.

Thanks to this change Andrew starts the school day rested and ready to learn, but millions of U.S. students do not share that experience.

Nearly half (46%) of the U.S. high schools that begin classes before 8 a.m. are filled with teenagers who have not received the 8+ hours of sleep that young people need. As adolescent brains develop, sleep patterns change. It’s a normal, natural occurring physiological milestone. Sleep researchers call it the development of an evening-type circadian phase preference. The rest of us call it becoming a night owl.

Regardless of the terminology, the result is the same: teenagers stay up late. They do not fall asleep sooner if school starts earlier. Instead, they get sleep-deprived.

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For a Healthier Nation, Let’s Look to Nurses!

Nov 30, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

From the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have applied a holistic approach toward treating patients within the context of their communities. Today, this approach entails promoting and practicing population health. To do so effectively, nurses need supportive educational, policy, research, and workplace environments.

A medical professional checks a woman's blood pressure.

My passion for public health was ignited early on in my career in nursing, serving children and families in St. Louis’ Head Start program. I quickly realized that the health of the individuals for whom I cared depended on a complex mix of factors—including personal choices, the opportunities they had available to them (or not), and the resources within their communities. And my time in St. Louis set me on a career path in nursing that has shown me just how integral a role nurses can play in the health of not just their individual patients, but the broader population.

Nurses have always played a key role in improving our nation’s health and well-being. We see people—not just at different stages of their lives, but also in all of the different places our patients live—using nursing skills and expertise to care for them in many different ways.

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Why Discrimination Is a Health Issue

Oct 24, 2017, 6:00 AM, Posted by David R. Williams

What does the pervasiveness of discrimination mean for health? Social scientist David Williams explains the physiological response to stress and why a good education or high-paying job doesn't necessarily protect from its effects. 

A patient sits in a doctor's office while a nurse looks over his chart.

Forty-one years after graduating from Yale University, Clyde Murphy—a renowned civil-rights attorney—died of a blood clot in his lungs. Soon afterward, his African-American classmates Ron Norwood and Jeff Palmer each succumbed to cancer.

In fact, more than 10 percent of African-Americans in the Yale class of 1970 had died—a mortality rate more than three times higher than that of their white classmates.

That’s stunning.

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Home Visits Empower Families to Achieve Brighter Futures

Sep 14, 2017, 1:00 PM, Posted by Claire Gibbons, Martha Davis

Home visiting programs help parents give kids a healthy start. Many families benefit from these services, but millions more could.

A mother and her son meet with a care coordinator.

It seemed as though the odds were stacked against Leroy Butler from day one. He was born within a housing project to a 15-year-old mother and a father who was convicted of murder shortly after his birth. Fortunately for Leroy, though, his mother was determined to shape better circumstances for her son.

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Can Learning Social Skills in School Pay Off Beyond the Classroom?

Sep 5, 2017, 1:00 PM, Posted by Mark Greenberg, Tracy Costigan

Social emotional skills can help students set goals for themselves and build positive relationships with peers. They can also lead to long-term societal benefits that extend far beyond the individual child.

Students use an interactive screen to communicate feelings.

At an elementary school in the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, the school day starts in an unusual way. Before they do anything else, students sit down at a classroom computer and select the face that best matches how they feel that morning.

If they’re feeling upbeat, they pick a green, smiling face. If they’re upset about something, there’s a red sad face. And if they feel somewhere in the middle there’s a yellow neutral face. This exercise helps these students develop self-awareness and emotional management skills. It also helps teachers recognize which students are having a tough day and where they might need help.

Ryan Coffey, a teacher and counselor at the Wisconsin school, calls this simple check-in an incredible tool that “can change the whole day.”

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How Nurses Are Caring for Their Communities

May 8, 2017, 1:15 PM, Posted by Nancy Fishman

Let’s recognize nurses for the roles they play within and beyond the health care setting.

A nurse plays with a young girl, showing her a stethoscope.

I was a visiting nurse early in my career, working outside the bricks and mortar of our health care system to provide care directly in patients’ homes. I saw firsthand the important role that the home and neighborhood environment plays in shaping health. I’m no longer a visiting nurse who sees patients, but I’m still a nurse who is building a Culture of Health—through my work here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and out in the community.  

I recently volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Trenton, where my colleagues and I helped build affordable homes for people in need of them. The tasks assigned to me didn’t require any nursing-specific skills, but many of the same qualities nurses bring to the job every day—teamwork, empathy, the ability to multi-task, and understanding how the conditions we live in affect our physical and mental well-being—made me feel comfortable (and even somewhat competent) on a construction site.

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The 500 Cities Project: New Data for Better Health

Feb 23, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Oktawia Wojcik

For the first time ever, the CDC and CDC Foundation are providing city and neighborhood level data for 500 of the largest U.S. cities, making it possible to identify emerging health problems and effective interventions.

A man holds his child.

Old Colony YMCA in Brockton, Massachusetts recently discovered something startling: a single neighborhood more burdened by poor health such as asthma, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol than surrounding areas. Most surprising, however, was that this particular area had a lower prevalence of unhealthy behaviors like binge drinking than other locations within Brockton.

In the past, public health officials may have expended limited resources on the entire Brockton metropolitan area because they wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint the specific neighborhood facing the spike and determine why it was happening.

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