Broad Shoulders Update

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Archive for the ‘healthy communities’ tag

New Stimulus Funds will make Black & Latino Communities Healthier

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fruit-cart-ny-mag.jpgThe health of the nation’s black and Latino communities stands to get a significant shot in the arm from the $650 million in health and wellness funding announced this afternoon by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to PolicyLink, a national research and advocacy organization.

The Prevention and Wellness Fund, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the federal stimulus bill), should go a long way toward creating healthier communities across America and, in particular, battling the pernicious racial disparities we see when it comes to obesity and diabetes rates.

“This new funding will throw a lifeline to millions of black and Latino children and their parents and help create healthier communities across America,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink and a principal advisor for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity. “Black and Latino Americans are hit hardest by the dual crises of obesity and diabetes. All people deserve to live in healthy communities - places with clean air, safe streets, clean parks, and easy access to healthy food options. These new funds will put us on a path toward healthy communities for all.”

The Administration’s funding approach appears to back three core policy principles PolicyLink and its partners have long called for:

  • Healthy food in our schools
  • Healthy food options in our communities
  • Healthy and safe places to live and play

The funding plan also lines up well with recommendations provided to the White House by PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute. To read those recommendations, click here.

Fact and Resources after the Jump


Written by Dan Lavoie

September 17th, 2009 at 6:09 pm

A Test of Character

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health-care.jpgHealth reform has officially become a test of character — the character of our nation and, perhaps more immediately, the character of our elected representatives.

Last night, President Obama laid out a strong, meaningful and moral health-reform platform. It is a sensible and fair approach that will help improve the lives, health and security of millions of American families.

Under the plan, hard-working Americans can be sure that an unexpected layoff or an effort to start your own business won’t keep you from getting the treatment you need. And strong prevention measures will help save money and reduce the terrible effects chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma are having on low-income people and communities of color.

It is time for leaders on all sides to put their heads down and do the work we elected them to do. The Obama plan represents a broad consensus, packed with the most promising ideas from experts, doctors and leaders on both sides of the Congressional aisle.

After a long, hot, loud August filled with disinformation and overheated rhetoric, it is time for the politics to cool. How Republican leaders react to this speech throughout September and October will show clearly whether they are in Washington to make the lives of everyday Americans better or if they are there to score cheap political points at the expense of the American people.

The perpetual campaign must stop. Our unfair, outdated, and unresponsive health-care system has dragged down families and businesses for far too long.

Obama stepped up to the plate last night, showing a willingness to bring any good ideas into the fold. But a willingness to compromise does not mean stepping away from essential elements and cannot represent a willingness to wait.

The time is now for real change. It’s up to our elected leaders to decide whether they want to play a constructive role — or merely hurl invective from the sidelines.

This article also appeared in the Washington Post’s “Health Care RX” experts panel. For more of Angela Glover Blackwell’s analyses, click here.

Written by Angela Glover Blackwell

September 10th, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Remind Us Who We’re Fighting For

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angela-color_000.jpgThis post originally appeared on The Washington Post’s “Health Care RX” weekly panel discussion, in response to the question: “Recent polls show declining support for President Obama’s handling of the health-care issue. What should he do to get the effort back on track?”

What are we even arguing about again?

Though the volume of the health-care debate has never been louder, it has never been more silent on what really matters to the real lives and real struggles of everyday Americans.

During the campaign, President Obama and his team were geniuses at keeping an even keel and steadily pushing on a single narrative — hope — that was both powerful and flexible. But during the health-care fight, they have been unfocused. Of course, it’s hard to have a consistent message when you’re bargaining with 535 potential legislative partners at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue (not to mention the dozens of TV and radio hosts who wield inordinate power in the modern media landscape).

Obama must take a step back and remind all Americans why we need to reform health care in the first place.

He needs to fill a town hall with people who have faced death or bankruptcy because of insufficient insurance or no insurance at all. Participants shouldn’t be hard to find — all of us have friends or neighbors or family members who have faced this harsh reality (or just go to Andrew Sullivan’s site where he has spent the past several weeks collecting dozens of heartbreaking “Views from Your Sickbed”)

Obama is a master of policy detail and — If he weren’t so politically savvy — would have made a terrific technocrat. But he must stress the big picture here.

We all know the health-care system is broken. We all know dealing with insurance companies is a maddening, often-frightening task. And we all know people will die needlessly unless we get some kind of reform now.

We need Obama to remind us of this fact. Every day. Every hour. The real pain of real Americans needs to become the center of this debate again, not the pitched voices of ill-informed mobs.

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 25th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Leading Health Foundations Say Prevention is Vital to Health Systems Reform

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New York, NY - Leaders of six of the nation’s top health foundations today made an unprecedented joint call for prevention measures to be central to the reform of our national health systems.In a letter released today, leaders at The California Endowment, The Kresge Foundation, Nemours, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente, wrote that prevention measures like early health screenings and improved access to healthy food will save both lives and money. Good health, they argue, doesn’t start at the doctor’s office - it starts where we live, work, learn and play.Beginning in 2006, the six foundations, along with technical advisor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partnered to form the Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership - a collaboration of funders looking to help healthy people live in healthy places. Today’s letter was released on behalf of the Partnership.

In the letter, the foundation leaders point to several proven examples where community-level prevention measures improved health, saved money, and cultivated community leadership.

“This is a strong national platform for the nation to build on,” they write in the letter, available in full at “With additional resources, it could bring considerable improvements in health for all Americans. It is time to scale up these efforts by including robust financial support for community prevention in any health systems reform.”

The letter’s signatories are:

  • Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO; The California Endowment
  • Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, Senior Vice President; Kaiser Permanente
  • Rip Rapson, CEO; The Kresge Foundation
  • David J. Bailey, MD; CEO and President; Nemours 
  • Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA; President Robert Wood Johnson Foundation   
  • Sterling K. Speirn; President and CEO; W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The letter is released at a crucial time, as Americans and Congress debate how to reform our national health care system.

The foundation leaders stress that prevention can save money and improve the long-term population health. A study last year from the Trust for America’s Health showed that for every dollar we invest in proven community-based disease prevention programs, we save $5.60. If we invested $10 per person in prevention, we could yield savings of more than $16 billion nationwide annually within five years.

The American people also want a health care system built around smart prevention measures. A recent Greenberg Poll showed prevention was the most popular potential health care fix, with nearly half of respondents rating it a 10 out of 10 in terms of importance.

Successful programs highlighted in the letter include:

  • In Bakersfield, Calif., a small group of local mothers - many of them Spanish-speaking farm workers - formed a walking group to improve their fitness and build community. With the help of police, parks officials, and the local Chamber of Commerce, the group cleaned up a long-neglected park and reported meaningful improvements in their health.
  • In Somerville, Mass., the citywide Shape Up Somerville campaign helped bring the city healthier school food, safer routes to school, farmers markets, community gardens, and more nutritional restaurant options. Weight gain among first- through third-graders has already slowed.
  • In Delaware, the statewide Make Delaware’s Kids the Healthiest in the Nation campaign ensured that policies and practices in early education focus on healthy eating and physical activity as part of a comprehensive approach to positively impact childhood obesity where children live, learn, and play. For every dollar invested in the initiative, Delaware saw a $4 savings in healthcare costs.

“Over time,” the foundation leaders wrote, “a focus on community prevention will improve health, save money, reduce demands on our health system and, most important, lead to a nation of healthier people and healthier places to live.”

About The Convergence Partnership In 2006, a collaboration of funders came together to create the Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership, with the shared goal of changing policies and environments to better achieve the vision of healthy people living in healthy places. The steering committee includes representatives from The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, Nemours, The Kresge Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serve as critical technical advisors on the committee. PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, serves as program directors for the partnership. Prevention Institute, a national non-profit organization dedicated to improving community health and equity through effective primary prevention, provides policy research and analysis along with strategic support.

For more information, please visit

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 17th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Prevention is Crucial, Say Leaders of Six Nat’l Health Foundations

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Leaders of six of the nation’s top health foundations today announced an unprecedented joint call that community-level prevention measures must be central to national health systems reform.

In a joint letter released today, leaders at The California Endowment, The Kresge Foundation, Nemours, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente, wrote that community-level prevention measures like improved access to healthy food will save both lives and money.

The letter was released on behalf of the Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership, a collaboration of funders working to change policies and environments to better achieve the vision of healthy people living in healthy places

As Americans and Congress debate how best to reform our health systems, the foundation leaders show how vital community-level prevention measures are to making Americans healthier for the long-term.

To read the full letter, please visit

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 17th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Congress, Health Reform, and Prevention

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Click to CallHealth-care reform negotiations are heating up.  Now is the time to make sure that prevention and equity are part of the final health reform package.
Contact your legislators and tell them:

  • Prevention measures recognize that where we live affects how we live. Congress has to address health in communities where people live, work, and play–not just in a doctor’s office, a hospital, or a clinic.
  • Communities with prevention measures such as easy access to fresh food, clean air, public transit, and safe places to play are places that enable all Americans to be healthier.
  • Low income communities and communities of color bear a greater disease burden because they are often disproportionately exposed to poor air quality, have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and offer fewer options for exercise, physical activity, and preventative care.  When we focus on prevention in every community, we help reduce inequities in all communities.
  • Investments in prevention not only help all Americans to live healthier, longer lives, but will ultimately save money.


Keep the four points above handy when you contact your Congressional representatives:

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 4th, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Weight of the Nation Conference

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Over the past two days in the nation’s capital, a powerful convergence of leaders came together to ponder the serious issue of obesity and its physical, social, and economic consequences.

At the Weight of the Nation conference, convened by the CDC, there was broad participation by local, state, and national researchers, policymakers, practitioners, advocates, academics and others seeking effective solutions. The big news to come of the conference so far was the startling study finding that obesity is costing us $147 billion in health-care costsone in every ten dollars spent on health-care nationwide.

While it was exciting and encouraging to have champions such as Bill Clinton, Senator Harkin, and Health Sec. Kathleen Sebelius offer powerful declarations of support, I am still worried. Worried that this battle will take a very long time. Worried that many Americans still look at individual behavior as the primary place for change rather than exploring the harmful effects of place on the individual and family’s range of choices.  (Note the opening photo of an overweight person in the chair as opposed to the large number of fast food restaurants and unsafe place to play).

We are learning a lot at the conference. For example, studies showing that increased obesity is tied to cheap, easy availability of unhealthy, tasty foods. We are learning what’s working in other countries, such as in Amsterdam, with all their cycling and walking and high parking rates, there is still an obesity problem. We are hearing from economists that how we frame obesity intervention matters.

For example, polls taken in NY showed public suppport for having government involved in creating healthier policies to reduce obesity. But this support significantly declined when asked if they support taxes to make the changes happen. So there is still more to learn, more smart folks to talk to, more business cards to collect, more research to collect and evaluate.

But the real test is when we all return home, what do we do differently? What commitments will be made within our organizations and networks? How do we leverage and maximize this important moment to stay the course over the long haul to make the needed policy changes that can be sustained? How do we strengthen communities and families without blame and with resources? So these are the questions I will continue to ponder in the remaining half day of this amazing conference.

Mildred Thompson is the Director of the PolicyLink Center for Health and Place and the Deputy Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Written by Mildred Thompson

July 28th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Real Progress, 30 Years in the Making

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angela-color_000.jpgI attended an event yesterday that was more than 30 years in the making. 

As I looked around the White House Office of Urban Affairs listening tour meeting at a packed Philadelphia warehouse space and saw low-income residents and local leaders mingling with some of our nation’s most powerful people (including two cabinet secretaries!), I thought back on where the fight for equitable access to healthy food started for me. 

It was 1979 and I was recently out of UC-Berkeley Law School and working for the public-interest law firm Public Advocates when a group of residents of a low-income, African-American neighborhood in San Francisco approached me to see if I could help stop their community’s one and only supermarket from leaving. In my hometown of St. Louis, I had seen first-hand the neglect and despair that festered after supermarkets left poor communities there.

No one had ever tried before to find a legal theory that would provide communities access to healthy food, so we were on uncharted legal ground.  Using interviews with more than 150 residents of local communities threatened by a lack of food access, we eventually filed an administrative petition with then-Gov. Jerry Brown seeking redress to the problem of the exodus of supermarkets from low-income communities.  The Governor was remarkably responsive: appointing a commission that held hearings throughout the state.  

Because of the determination of those residents, California began a slow move toward improving healthy food access for millions of our neighbors; the petition sparked farmers’ markets, cooperative buying clubs, a few cooperative markets-but, unfortunately, not one supermarket.urbanaffairsmeeting1.gif

In the years since, equitable food access has been mostly relegated to a local issue, with fights cropping up sporadically in neighborhoods as local supermarkets threaten to leave. We had seen some successes - like San Diego’s Market Creek Plaza or the Pathmark in Harlem - but the victories had been hard to come by.

That is, until about five years ago, when Pennsylvania’s Gov. Ed Rendell and State Rep. Dwight Evans began to listen to the ideas and innovation of their constituents and the leadership of The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund. Out of that collaboration came the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a remarkable program that has helped open dozens of markets and seed more than 3,700 jobs in under-served communities.

Now, through the tireless efforts of residents and advocates, the White House Office of Urban Affairs has shown real interest in learning about this proven program, hopefully to take the ideas and solutions to the national scale. White House leaders want to lift up the program and hear how it is impacting real people. For the first time, I can see the fight for equitable food access is winnable.

I cannot stress enough how important and exciting it is to have a White House willing to listen to new and innovative ideas. This administration - in virtually every office and agency - seems to recognize that all Americans deserve to live in a community of opportunity.

But that does not mean progress will happen on its own. Far from it. The most important attribute the equity movement has going for it is our tenacity. Thirty years ago, when those residents came into my office to ask for help in improving their community, I knew it would be a long, hard fight. But sitting in Philadelphia this week, I felt emboldened to keep fighting, to keep pushing, because success is always within our grasp.

We must demand equity now.

Written by Angela Glover Blackwell

July 24th, 2009 at 9:04 pm

The USDA, Ezra Klein and Food Deserts

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supermarketproducerick.jpgLike many people working in the trenches to combat the scourge of “food deserts” in America, I was excited to hear the USDA was releasing a new study about the problem. With the overwhelming scientific evidence showing a lack of access to healthy food is a detriment to our health, the spotlight from the USDA was quite welcome.

While the USDA should be commended for looking at the food desert issue, it seemed to miss the boat on the depth, breadth, and consequences of the problem.

By the report’s own admission, 23.5 million Americans live in low-income communities without a grocery store within walking distance. That’s about one in every 13 people. That doesn’t seem to jibe with the study’s first finding that “access to a supermarket or large grocery store is a problem for a small percentage of households.”

But more odd is the study’s relative dismissal of the benefits of healthy eating and the real fallout from living in a community with little or no access to fresh food. There has been significant scientific research showing the vital role fresh food consumption and access play in our health:

  • A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found fruit and vegetable consumption among African Americans rose 32 percent with each additional local food store.
  • A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found lowest rates of obesity (21 percent) among people living in neighborhoods with supermarkets or grocery stores and the highest rates of obesity (32-40 percent) among people living in places with no supermarkets and access to only smaller grocery stores and convenience stores.
  • A 2007 national study of more than 70,000 teens found that increased availability of chain supermarkets was associated with lower rates of being overweight
  • A March 2009 study in Indianapolis showed adding a new grocery store to a neighborhood translated into a 3 pound weight decrease for residents.

This a public health issue, plain and simple. As we demonstrated in the 2008 report, Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes, people living in neighborhoods crowded with fast-food and convenience stores but relatively few grocery or produce outlets have a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes.

In Ezra Klein’s blog post for the Washington Post today, he says that food deserts aren’t the problem. “The problem, it seems, is the opposite: food swamps. Areas dense with fast food and convenience stores,” he writes.

But this is not an either-or proposition. Designed for Disease showed clearly that a dramatically unbalanced food environment is a direct health risk. Having no food choices at all is just as problematic as having a glut of bad food choices.

Photo used under a Creative Common License from Flickr user Spine (aka Rick)

Written by Judith Bell

June 26th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Statements on New USDA Food Desert Study

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The USDA released a much-anticipated study of food deserts today. The full study can be found here. Below are statements from PolicyLink and The Food Trust about the study.

Statement from PolicyLink President Judith Bell

“The new USDA food desert report provides yet another confirmation that access to healthy food is a significant problem for millions of Americans. The report shows that about one in every 13 Americans – 23.5 million people — live in low-income communities that are more than a mile from the nearest large grocery store.

As more than 70 studies have shown during the past decade, the lack of access to healthy food is a real challenge in many low-income urban communities, rural communities, and communities of color. This is a public health issue, plain and simple. As we demonstrated in the 2008 report, Designed for Disease: The Link Between Local Food Environments and Obesity and Diabetes, people living in neighborhoods crowded with fast-food and convenience stores but relatively few grocery or produce outlets have a significantly higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes. (The report was prepared by PolicyLink in partnership with the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy).  Other studies demonstrate that in addition to providing access to healthy foods, supermarkets and large grocery stores are important neighborhood economic engines, bringing jobs and revitalization.

This USDA report adds to the growing body of research on the ways that where you live affects your health. Now is the time to implement proven, impactful policies to address America’s food desert crisis.”

Statement from John Weidman, Deputy Executive Director, The Food Trust

“Improving access to grocery stores in both urban and rural communities must be part of our national strategy to improve children’s health and prevent obesity and diabetes.  The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative has demonstrated that supermarkets can thrive in food deserts and offers a strong model for solving this problem nationally.   Expanding this program is one of the Top Ten recommendations of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission To Build a Healthier America.”