Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Healthy People: Supporting Shared Goals to Advance Health Equity

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This post is part of Healthy People in Action, a blog series highlighting how key partners use the Healthy People framework in their work, form cross-sector collaborations, and address social determinants of health to help achieve health equity.

As the largest health foundation in the United States, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supports a wide variety of organizations that are working to advance health equity in communities across the country. With an emphasis on how the conditions in people’s environments affect their health, RWJF’s vision aligns perfectly with Healthy People 2030’s overarching focus on social determinants of health.

RWJF prioritizes policy change as a way to address social determinants of health and advance health equity. In line with this focus, from 2013 to 2020, RWJF partnered with ODPHP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the CDC Foundation on the Healthy People 2020 Law and Health Policy project.

“The project highlighted the critical role that law and policy play in meeting the national public health goals included in Healthy People,” says RWJF Senior Policy Officer Giridhar Mallya, MD, MSHP. “Law and policy can undo structural inequities, and they can affect the health of communities for the long term.”

Prioritizing Law and Policy

Through the Law and Health Policy project, RWJF, CDC, the CDC Foundation, and ODPHP worked together to develop reports, webinars, research papers, and other tools. Their aim was to help leaders across the country understand how to use law and policy to both work toward their own goals and contribute to nationwide progress toward Healthy People objectives.

Law and Health Policy reports and related resources covered a variety of Healthy People 2020 topic areas, including:

  • Disability and Health
  • Healthcare-Associated Infections
  • Maternal, Infant, and Child Health
  • Mental Health and Mental Disorders
  • Nutrition and Weight Status
  • Oral Health
  • Substance Abuse

Though the project ended this year, Law and Health Policy reports and resources will continue to help health professionals and others influence law and policy to improve health and well-being. And Mallya says RWJF will continue providing funding and technical support to organizations working on policies aimed at achieving Healthy People objectives.

In addition, for the first time in the history of the Healthy People initiative, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 included a lawyer. “This was very much aligned with the underlying values of the Law and Health Policy project — that law and policy matter to health,” Mallya says. “And if it matters to health, then we needed law and health policy leaders shaping Healthy People 2030.”

Building a Culture of Health

RWJF also works with partners across the nation to create what it calls a Culture of Health. Mallya explains a Culture of Health as “a society where people can live out their full health potential regardless of their race, income, or ZIP code — where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”

With a focus on health equity, cross-sector collaboration, and integrated health services and systems, RWJF’s Culture of Health Action Framework is closely aligned with the Healthy People 2030 framework. In support of a Culture of Health, RWJF invests in policy change, strategic communications, research and evaluation, and capacity building, including with many state and local partners — and it provides about $500 million in grants each year.

Many of RWJF’s grantees are in sectors not traditionally associated with health. For example, RWJF supports the efforts of Right to the City Alliance to protect and expand affordable housing. RWJF supports this kind of work for the same reason that Healthy People 2030 focuses on social determinants of health: improving the conditions in people’s environments improves health — and ultimately advances health equity.

Looking to the Future

Later this decade, Healthy People will add new data visualization features to its website that will make it easy for people to see how health disparities — like by race/ethnicity and income — are narrowing or widening. RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser, MD, had suggested something similar in his public comments for the Healthy People 2030 framework.

Mallya says that as the decade advances, he looks forward to this kind of continued partnership between RWJF and ODPHP as they  work toward their shared vision of health equity in the United States.

“Throughout the decade, we’ll continue to learn from and motivate each other in our journey toward a healthier nation,” Mallya says.

Categories: health.gov Blog
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