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, powerful ways in which mindsets influence health, and how we can use them to improve well-being.

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.

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.

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 designing public spaces to foster healthier, more inclusive communities?

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.

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.

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.

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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Helping Students Save For—and Stay in—College

Aug 30, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by James McGowan

A higher education degree has a big impact on future health. Here’s how one man is leveraging his personal experience to help students pursue a brighter future.

Like many of the college-bound students I counsel at Normandy High School in Wellston, Mo., I was a first-generation college student. Thrilled to head off to Georgia Tech on a full scholarship, I had no idea I wasn’t actually getting a full ride with all costs paid for. Suddenly, I found myself on the hook for room and board, books, and other expenses. I took out loans, but they weren’t enough. I maxed out my credit cards. It took me years to pay off the debt.

I share this story with my students as a cautionary tale and to underscore the value of Viking Advantage, the college savings and preparation program they participate in. Each student in the program gets a college savings account called an Individual Development Account (IDA). For every dollar they save for college, up to $500, they get an additional $3 from my organization, Beyond Housing, and its funding partners—for a maximum total of $2,000. When students head to college, the money is sent directly to the college bookstore or cashier’s office for tuition, textbooks, dorm deposits, room and board, and supplies they need for classes.

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How Lessons From Abroad Are Uplifting Youth In the United States

Aug 23, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Jennifer Ng'andu

Creative programs in Latin America are inspiring U.S. communities to pursue similar approaches that connect young adults to education and employment.

Like many high school graduates in Brazil, Caroline was eager to find a job. She desperately needed money to continue her studies and pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But two years after graduating, she was still unemployed. Caroline eventually managed to improve her job prospects in an unlikely way—through drawing, dance and breath work.

Intent on breaking free from a family history of women who weren’t able to get good jobs or finish high school, Caroline discovered a job training program run by Rede Cidadã (The Citizen Network). The non-profit organization connects youth to jobs and apprenticeships throughout Brazil, where the youth unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent.

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Honoring Tradition to Support Tribal Health

Aug 3, 2017, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Judkins

Twenty-five years ago, the future of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe was in jeopardy. Today, they are looking at seven generations: back three generations, the present, and forward three generations. Here is how they are ‘pulling together’ for health.

My tribe sees life within the frame of seven generations: The current generation is shaped by the experience of people three generations before and tasked with setting the course for three generations to come.

That’s why I summoned the stamina needed to paddle a canoe for eight days last summer in a tradition that binds our generations. I joined thousands of men, women, teens and children from my tribe—Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe—as well as our neighbors from the Chinook Indian Nation, to paddle together in a dugout canoe for 200 miles. It was an annual journey with deep roots in our culture and history. I learned what it really means to pull together. You get into a rhythm with your team, and you move forward.

That’s what we’re trying to do for our community’s health, too.

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