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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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How Social Spending Affects Health Outcomes

Aug 17, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Elizabeth H. Bradley, Lauren A. Taylor

The United States spends more on health care than any other developed nation, yet a recent study suggests social services could have a greater impact on health outcomes.

A hundred dollar bill. Modified image. Original photo by Ervins Strauhmanis.

In a blog post for The New York Times, Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, detailed important—and importantly nonmedical—barriers to health that he had witnessed in his patients: a man who couldn’t fathom worrying about his blood pressure when he needed to find food and a place to sleep, a diabetic without reliable access to a refrigerator to store insulin, a mother fretting that mold and cockroaches in her apartment were exacerbating her son’s asthma. Medical care might be necessary for these patients. But that care alone is unlikely to be sufficient.

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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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5 Reasons to Be Excited for the Changes Coming to Menus and Food Labels

May 20, 2016, 11:07 AM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Menu labeling in food retail establishments can help foster a Culture of Health in communities nationwide—here’s why this is great news for American consumers.

A cook at a fast food restaurant prepares a meal.

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled big news from the Food and Drug Administration: Consumers will soon begin to see an updated and increasingly useful Nutrition Facts Panel on packaged foods and beverages. This is the first comprehensive overhaul of the label since 1994.

Soon, those little black-and-white charts will inform you of the amount of added sugars in a product, and include a “daily value” to help you understand the maximum amount of added daily sugars recommended by experts. Serving sizes will also be revised to reflect the amounts of products that people typically consume in the real world. And, calorie counts will be listed in a much larger and bolder font to make them easier to spot.

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Start Here: County Health Rankings Spur Momentum Toward a Culture of Health

Apr 27, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Michelle Larkin

Students from summer camp look at their growing vegetables on the rooftop garden.

Every year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards its Culture of Health Prize to up to 10 communities across the country. Prizewinners exemplify the importance of locally driven change in the quest to ensure everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, has the opportunity for good health. We say it often: When it comes to building a Culture of Health, the challenges are many and the solutions seldom straightforward. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and for several Prize-winning communities, that somewhere was the annual County Health Rankings.

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Is the Nation Ready for an Emergency?

Apr 25, 2016, 10:00 PM, Posted by Lori Grubstein, Paul Kuehnert

New findings aim to help local governments, public health departments and others find ways to better protect communities across the nation from the health impacts of disasters.

Paramedics load a gurney into an ambulance.

Over the last year, public health crises near and far have captured our attention. From contaminated drinking water in Michigan, Colorado and West Virginia, to concerns about the potential Zika exposure throughout much of the Southeastern states, there doesn’t seem to be a day that these public health problems aren’t in the news.

We know that where we live often determines how vulnerable we are to public health disasters. If we want everyone—regardless of what neighborhood, city, or state they live in—to have access to health and well-being, we must work together to combat threats. And we must focus our resources on those that need them most. When we work together, our communities can be resilient and ready for inevitable challenges. Safeguarding and building our health security ensures the collective health and well-being of communities across the nation.

That’s where the National Health Security Preparedness Index comes into play.

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Can a Single Question Help Families Confront Poverty?

Apr 13, 2016, 10:30 AM, Posted by David Krol

A new recommendation for pediatricians aims to help the one in five children in the United States who live in poverty.

Father holds young child at doctor's office.

During most of the week, I spend my time here at RWJF working on programs to develop leaders in health and health care and to address childhood obesity. But on Friday afternoons, I am at Eric B. Chandler Health Center in New Brunswick, N.J., seeing children and families. Eric B. Chandler is a federally qualified health center, and we serve a lot of poor, immigrant families. The children I see are more likely to have asthma or tooth decay than are children who live not too far away. They’re also more likely to be overweight, and to face adverse childhood experiences like family trauma or violence.

In some sense, this isn’t surprising. Poverty is one of the biggest health risks that children face today. One in five young people in the United States lives in poverty, and it’s present in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. My colleagues James Marks and Kristin Schubert recently described what lasting impact poverty can have on children.

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Disrupting the Status Quo: Seeking Innovations from Low-Resource Communities

Nov 4, 2015, 3:03 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

A call for proposals seeks to support evaluation of disruptive innovations that improve the health of low-resource communities—without increasing costs.

Many of the resources that influence whether or not people are healthy vary widely from one community to the next. Income, education and employment levels, access to quality, affordable health care, the availability of social services, and the cultural and physical environment—all have a significant impact on health outcomes. Poorer communities, lacking in resources may struggle to offer all the components that create a healthy environment to live, learn, work and play.

By necessity, however, these low-resource communities often find new and creative ways to do more with less to promote health.  In an effort to uncover such fresh and disruptive approaches to improving health in these communities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has issued a call for proposals.

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A TED Dare: Here’s Reality. Now Do Something About it.

Mar 19, 2015, 12:31 AM, Posted by Jessica Mark

A poster for TED 2015 about ensuring healthy communities.

Everyone in America deserves a chance to live the healthiest life possible. The reality is a bit more complicated: A person’s ZIP code, after all, can be as important as their genetic code when it comes to determining health. A true Culture of Health in the United States won’t be possible unless we address the inequities that allow some full access to a healthier life, while others are left to struggle.

This week, RWJF arrived at the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a challenge for attendees: Try to understand what millions of people face in their pursuit of a healthy life. And in the spirit of the conference’s “Truth & Dare” theme, we dared the TED participants to envision a future in which everyone had access and a path to a healthier life. How might that happen? So far we’re hearing incredible ideas: let’s get to a place where we can celebrate justice rather than seek justice. Let’s make smarter choices about where we spend our health care.

We’ve enlisted five talented—brilliant, really—young filmmakers to help us. We asked each of them to tell the stories of their lives and to document the challenges that sometimes seem distant, but that are all too real for the people in their worlds. Check out their remarkable stories:

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Seizing Opportunities to Reinvent Public Health

Dec 2, 2014, 10:57 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A doctor talks in a friendly manner to a disabled patient sitting in a wheelchair.

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different,” wrote the late management guru Peter Drucker.  To the list of society’s sectors that are struggling with that conclusion, add government-funded public health.

State and local health departments face growing challenges, including infectious disease threats such as Ebola and chikungunya; a rising burden of chronic illness; an increasingly diverse population; even the health impact of global warming. At the same time, fiscal constraints accompanying the 2007–2008 recession and its aftermath hammered local, state, and territorial health agencies, which lost nearly 30,000 jobs—6 percent to 12 percent of their total workforces—from 2008 to 2013.

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