How Supportive Housing Uplifts Families in Crisis

Oct 26, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Kerry Anne McGeary

Irma’s troubled life culminated in being thrown down the stairs when she was six months pregnant. Thanks to a program that’s addressing system-wide change, Irma and her family are now safe and secure with a new home and a brighter future. 

Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (right) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children. Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (in white shirt) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children: Joel, age 5, Delicia, age 3 and Julio, age 18 months.

From too early an age, Irma faced a seemingly endless series of traumatic events that life threw at her as best she could—on her own.

But after a domestic crisis left her hospitalized, homeless, jobless, and in danger of losing her infant son, Irma finally received help from a supportive housing program that changed her life.

Keeping Families Together (KFT)—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)-supported model for the program that helped Irma turn her life around—has become my own personal touchstone for what building a Culture of Health should look like in the real world.

Irma’s story illustrates both the power of this model and the inner resilience that so many struggling families possess.

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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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Help Us Find Solutions for Social Isolation

Oct 19, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden

We’re providing a total of $2.5 million in funding, looking for the best ideas from around the world that can address social isolation in the United States.

A teenage boy looks out of a window.

I remember reading the story of a dying patient who, when asked who to call as his life was ending, he replied, “no one.” He had absolutely no immediate family or close friends. Dr. Druv Khullar who wrote the piece noted "the sadness of his death was surpassed only by the sadness of his solitude. I wondered whether his isolation was a driving force of his premature death, not just an unhappy circumstance."

This profoundly sad story struck me to my core.

Not everyone has a social network to call on when they need people by their side. Many people feel disconnected from society and from life, and that contributes to a host of physical, mental and emotional health problems. In fact, according to experts, social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

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Does the Mind Impact Health? A Researcher’s Insights

Oct 12, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Alia Crum

Psychologist Alia Crum’s research reveals that the way we think about our health can change our health outcomes. She explains the surprising ways mindsets influence health, and how we can use them to improve well-being.

Mindset image

Three days before my regional gymnastics meet in Arkansas I landed awkwardly on a practice vault, clashing my inner ankle bones. The pain was excruciating—as was the prospect of an injury crushing my dream of competing nationally. I was determined to go on, so I decided to adopt the mindset that I could mentally overcome my physical injury. I diligently iced, taped and tended to it while visualizing myself making it to nationals in spite of the setback.

I competed and placed high enough to qualify, and was elated as well as surprised by how little the pain had affected me. Another surprise: An x-ray the next day showed that my ankle had been broken.

My experience at age 10 shows the power of mindset—the frame of mind through which we perceive, interpret, and organize an inherently complex world. The ability to make sense of the world through our mindsets is a natural part of being human. But the mindsets we hold are not inconsequential. In fact they change reality by influencing our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology. I had decided my injury wasn’t going to influence my performance, and almost impossibly, it didn’t.

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New Sesame Street Tools Help Build Resiliency

Oct 6, 2017, 12:30 AM, Posted by Jeanette Betancourt, Kristin Schubert

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Street are partnering to help families cope with traumatic experiences and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives.

Big Bird in his nest.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Workshop share a common vision of giving all children—especially the most vulnerable among us—a strong and healthy start in life. We know that childhood experiences lay the foundation for children to grow into productive and successful adults, and promoting healthy behaviors and supporting families from the very beginning can help kids thrive. But it’s equally important to address challenges that can undermine their healthy development.

Tools to Help Families Cope

That’s why we are proud to announce Sesame Workshop’s first-ever comprehensive initiative to help children cope with traumatic experiences. Research tells us that kids who experience trauma—like physical abuse, neglect, divorce, experiencing natural disasters, or witnessing violent acts—are more likely to face serious health issues as an adult. The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found as the number of “ACEs” increase for a child, so does the risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as alcohol abuse and drug use, obesity, and depression. According to new data, nearly half of children under 18 living in the United States have experienced at least one ACE. And it starts at a young age. Among children under five, 35 percent have experienced at least one ACE, and 12 percent have experienced at least two.

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New Leaders Use Telehealth—and Teamwork—to Tackle Opioid Use

Sep 26, 2017, 9:30 AM, Posted by Kaytura Felix

A pioneering team of clinicians is tearing down barriers that prevented opioid dependent patients in a rural community from receiving treatment. Their efforts—and those of leaders like them—are helping communities across the nation have an equal opportunity to lead healthier lives.

Prescription Drug Abuse Map.

In Hagerstown, rural Maryland, tucked amongst a series of charming brick buildings is Wells House, a long-standing charity. It provides recovery services to community members battling drug and alcohol dependencies. But for some time, what Wells House didn’t have was a regular clinician to provide specific, evidence-based opioid treatment.

Wells House eventually turned to “telemedicine”—using technology to tap into a network of physicians who could provide treatment remotely. The initial idea came from Eric Weintraub, MD, director of substance abuse services at University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). The charity had sought out his help in prescribing and managing buprenorphine treatment for clients with opioid disorders. But frequent travel out to Wells House from Baltimore posed a problem for Weintraub and his colleagues. So he turned to technology.

“It was a no-brainer,” Weintraub said. “Medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard for opioid addiction, and we have learned that telemedicine is as effective in most places as face-to-face care, so why not put the two together?”

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Can a Trash Can Reveal a Community’s Values?

Sep 21, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Karabi Acharya

What can the U.S. learn from Copenhagen about use of 'placemaking' to foster healthier, more inclusive communities?

Bike-friendly Copenhagen street.

One of the most striking cultural symbols upon arriving in Copenhagen is the sheer number of cyclists navigating city streets—in fact bicycles outnumber cars!

But during my recent visit, it was the trash cans that actually caught my eye.

Just as in many U.S. cities, Copenhagen’s citizens can return used bottles and cans for cash. But, unlike other cities, Copenhagen’s trash cans are equipped with small “deposit” shelves on the outside to place recyclables. This provides an easier, safer, and more sanitary way of collecting discarded cans. Instead of digging through trash cans overflowing with smelly garbage and sharp glass, collectors can easily retrieve bottles and cans from these exterior shelves.

A small feature like this speaks volumes about how our public spaces can support social values like dignity and compassion.

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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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What It Takes to Bring Healthier School Foods to 31 Million Kids

Sep 7, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Building upon the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project was created to ensure students received healthier meals. Nearly seven years later, it’s left an indelible mark on school cafeterias across the country.

Students eating lunch.

Santa Cruz County is part of California’s central coast, a rich agricultural area where locally grown fruits and vegetables often find their way to area schools. But until recently, Del Mar Elementary School had a hard time taking advantage. Outdated equipment and lack of storage meant that produce would quickly lose its freshness and students would lose interest even faster. Three-quarters of Del Mar students qualify for free or reduced-price meals; they need fruits and vegetables the most, but the school wasn’t properly equipped to serve them.

Things finally changed about three years ago, when the school purchased a new serving line, including heated and chilled cabinets to store fresh food at proper temperatures. The fruits and vegetables not only stayed fresh longer, but Del Mar was able to serve them “buffet style,” which made it more visually appealing for kids and easier for them to choose exactly what they wanted.

In a time of tight budgets, most schools don’t exactly have extra money lying around for cafeteria kitchen equipment. So where did Del Mar get the $20,000 it needed for the new serving line? And how did their success story gain national attention?

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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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