A Vision on Building a Culture of Health


PHILADELPHIA–The Center for Public Health Initiatives kicked off its seminar series with Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey MD, MBA lighting a flame in the hearts of faculty and students here at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is the CEO and President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. She holds more than 30 years of experience as a medical practitioner, professor, policy-maker, and non-profit executive.

Lavizzo-Mourey opened the seminar series with warm welcomes and thanks, expressing her delight to return to her alma mater; “It’s great to be home.”

Before sharing her foundation’s vision and charge for shifting our nation’s focus towards health, she first shed light on the stark realities we face.

Our Nation’s Current Health status

Approximately 75 percent of the country’s 17 to 24 year old youth are currently ineligible for military service, largely because of education, obesity, and physical ailments that make them unfit for the armed forces, according to a report recently presented to Congress by a group of retired military leaders.

She pointed out that improving quality of life and maintaining health starts at birth. Statistics show that the zip code where we are born in and reside may determine our life expectancy. She displayed a number of alarming U.S. statistics, highlighting in particular our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.. Metro area residents living in the predominantly affluent Montgomery County, Maryland, have an average life expectancy of 84 years whereas miles away in downtown D.C. the average life expectancy is seven years shorter.

Another troubling statistic is that 4 out of 5 physicians agree that addressing patient social needs are as important as dealing with medical conditions, yet an alarming majority of physicians admit they don’t know how to effectively address them.

Shifting Towards a Culture of Health

“A shift in this magnitude starts with an idea. Think back to the 1970’s, recycling was not part of our culture. Now it’s instinctive to recycle, because we made it easy. Recycling now is on every sidewalk and if we throw away a bottle in the trash, most of us feel guilty.” She also gave a great example of the 911 emergency response system and how years ago such a system never existed. Now, every child knows to dial 9-1-1 for an emergency.

Then Lavizzo-Mourey, turned to the faculty and students,

“We are the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated to health. But we don’t make policy. We don’t sell anything. We don’t deliver any healthcare services; the only power we have is to invest in you.”

So how can we build a culture of health together? How can we ingrain healthy habits into our culture such that being healthy and staying healthy become instinctive? How can we turn around the stark reality that the zip code that we reside in may restrict our life expectancy? How can we create adequate social support systems to improve quality of life preventing re-admissions that plague hospitals throughout the nation? How do we start right here in the city of Philadelphia?

A vision this large will take a concerted effort from all members of the community, health care, social work, government, education, business, places of worship, and families to tackle the barriers to create an environment where a culture of health will thrive.

If each one of us does our part, small victories will turn into national success.

Written by: Amy Rajan, MSN/MPH Candidate 2016

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