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Guest Post: Beyond Health Care; Recommendations for Building a Healthier America

Posted Oct 04 2009 11:13pm

For the first time in our nation’s history, today’s generation of children may well live sicker, shorter lives than their parents. To improve America’s health, we need to understand why, across social boundaries and in every community, so many Americans are getting sick in the first place.

To answer that question, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America spent the last year and a half investigating the powerful influence that factors beyond health care – where we live, learn, work and play – have on our health. As staff director, I had the privilege of joining the diverse group of commissioners in talking with experts, leaders and citizens across the country as the commission developed its recommendations.

We have good news: From business to government and at all levels of society, leaders and citizens are collaborating to remove obstacles that prevent people from making healthy choices. Where communities have mobilized to improve their health, we found grocery stores well-stocked with nutritious food, streets that were safe to walk, housing that was maintained, workplaces that promoted wellness, and a commitment among schools, child-care centers and parents to give all children in the community a chance to grow up healthy.

The commission released its recommendations in April to highlight these local successes. But the commission did not stop at identifying programs and policies and learning why they work. As Partnership for Prevention understands well, great ideas will go nowhere without equal efforts to educate decision-makers and engage stakeholders towards action. To that end, the commission is actively facilitating collaboration across communities, businesses, unions, philanthropies, and local, state and federal governments to help bring the recommendations to life.

Specifically, the commission recommends:


  • Making education and high-quality child care a national priority

  • Banning junk food in schools. Federal funds should be used exclusively for healthful meals

  • Getting kids moving. All schools (K-12) should include at least 30 minutes every day for children to be physically active

  • Eliminating so-called food deserts. Create public-private partnerships to open grocery stores in communities without access to healthful foods

  • Creating incentives for healthy, safe development by assigning a health impact rating to housing and infrastructure projects

  • Providing employees opportunities to make healthy choices in the workplace

  • Protecting us all from tobacco smoke. Eliminating smoking remains one of the most important contributors to longer, healthier lives

You can read all the recommendations and learn more about model programs at commissiononhealth.org.

Building a healthier America is feasible in years, not decades, if we collaborate and act on what is making a difference. I encourage you to read the commission’s recommendations and to do your part to make America’s health a place of progress once again.


Dr. David R. Williams is a Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Staff Director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America.

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