American Public Health Association Meeting: All About Where You Live

Nov 14, 2014, 9:55 AM, Posted by

Children playing outside.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has long embraced the idea that advancing America’s health is a community affair. Much of our work—and our current vision for building a Culture of Health—is grounded on the basic premise that where we live, work, learn, and play is inextricably connected to our health and well-being.

Consider that life expectancy can differ by 25 years in neighborhoods just a few miles apart; that a ZIP code can determine rates of preventable disease, violence, and access to healthy food. With this in mind, RWJF supports a wide range of programs designed to foster healthy communities—including efforts to prevent obesity and chronic disease, reduce disparities in health and access to care, and improve early childhood development.

We recognize that the best strategies are driven by local data and address the unique challenges and characteristics of individual communities. We know that what works for Camden, N.J., might not fly in Minneapolis or Baltimore.

That’s why we are so thrilled that the American Public Health Association has chosen “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being” as the focus of its annual meeting. This mega-event—some 12,000 people attending nearly 1,000 sessions—takes place November 15-19 and offers researchers, clinicians, and anyone else with an interest in public health a complete immersion in the field.

For us at RWJF, having the APHA conference in New Orleans is especially gratifying. Last year RWJF chose the Big Easy as one of the winners of its inaugural Culture of Health Prize—recognition of the city’s innovative public health efforts.

I got to know New Orleans well during many visits while my daughter was an undergraduate at Tulane University’s school of public health. Over four years starting in 2009, we witnessed the city’s slow but steady recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Before the storm devastated the city in 2005, New Orleans’ approach to health was similar to many places across the country—focused more on clinical care than prevention and public health. Rebuilding the city gave leaders a chance to address long-standing public health problems such as obesity, chronic disease, violence, and the paucity of healthy food options.

The change is palpable. A community partnership joining the city’s health department, schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations has led to a revitalized East New Orleans—complete with a full-service hospital, 24-hour urgent care clinic, new athletic fields and a pool. Schools were reopened with a new focus on academic excellence along with better support for children’s health and wellness. Roads washed away by Katrina now boast bike lanes; miles of walking paths crisscross the city; and grocery stores stocked with fresh produce have sprung up in neighborhoods that were formerly food deserts. With these changes, and continuing efforts, New Orleans just might meet its goal of being one of America’s healthiest cities by 2018. The city certainly has the heart and resilience to get there.

The APHA’s “Healthography” theme underlies many other RWJF initiatives, particularly the work of the Commission to Build a Healthier America, a national, nonpartisan group of leaders convened from both the public and private sectors that generates and supports research focused on building healthier communities. Earlier this year the Commission made three recommendations for spending priorities and major new initiatives to improve the health of all Americans:

  • Increase access to early childhood development programs
  • Revitalize low-income neighborhoods
  • Broaden the mission of health care providers beyond medical treatment.

Working toward these ambitious goals will require a commitment to research, collaboration and bold new strategies for building healthier communities.

That’s where you come in. If you will be in New Orleans, stop by our booths—1236, 1238 and 1242—at the APHA conference. Don’t miss our "Briefings at the Booth" series, featuring mini-presentations and discussions by RWJF scholars and alumni. And check out our live coverage of APHA on our Twitter feed @RWJF_Live and join in the conversation using the hashtags #APHA14 and #CultureofHealth. We will share original reporting of conference sessions, exclusive interviews with speakers and attendees, and up-to-the-minute information from New Orleans on Twitter.

With your help, we can strive to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come.