Can We Redefine “Progress” to Center Well-Being?

Feb 23, 2022, 10:45 AM, Posted by Karabi Acharya

What can we learn from communities in the U.S. and around the world about changing the narrative on progress? What does it mean in practice to take a well-being approach?

A man rides his bike along a pedestrian only pathway.

For many months, our society has grappled with defining our “new normal.” The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and deepened inequities that undermine well-being. Combined with a worldwide outcry for racial equity, we have been challenged to reconsider how the United States defines “progress.”

Our nation’s traditional story of progress has been limited to measures like economic growth and employment. When leaders tout our country’s successes, they cite GDP numbers, job growth, and unemployment rates.

On an individual level, a person’s bank account balance, the car they drive, and their generational wealth are heralded as markers of success. These benchmarks only tell a fraction of the human story. They also overlook how structural racism has undermined economic opportunity for communities of color among other outcomes.

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What Research Tells Us About Effective Advocacy Might Surprise You

Feb 17, 2022, 11:00 AM, Posted by Jeff Niederdeppe, Liana Winett

Storytelling can be a powerful tool to increase support for policies; but, depending on the audience, it can also have the opposite effect.

Megaphone illustration.

As the pandemic continues, our early child care and education systems have become increasingly fragile. Decades of divestment in school buildings means that many schools are ill-equipped to confront an airborne virus. Educators and others in the workforce are calling in sick or quitting at such high numbers that some areas have called in the National Guard to help schools stay open. The strain when children are sick or when schools close is impossibly hard on working families foremost, but it also disrupts society writ large.

Parents and other advocates are speaking up to demand better solutions. They share personal stories to illustrate both where systems have failed them, and also what is desperately needed. But when is storytelling effective and when does it backfire?

We recently conducted two studies: the first looked at communication to the general public, and the second to state legislators, both designed to generate support for public investments in affordable, accessible, high-quality childcare for all. What we found might surprise you (it definitely surprised us!)

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Black Men Who Care Are the Role Models We Need

Feb 10, 2022, 10:45 AM, Posted by Dwayne Curry

How can encouraging men to share the joy and challenges of caregiving help erase stereotypes and transform the nation’s culture of care?

Men caring for family.

The acclaimed Carter Woodson, who is often called the father of Black history, said: You must give your own story to the world.

Those have been guiding words for me these past few years as I’ve shared my deeply personal journey as a Black father and family caregiver. My goal in doing so is to help break stereotypes, create a new narrative, and offer solutions to the caregiving crisis that is holding our country back.

I’m proud to be a caregiver to my family, which includes my wife, her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, my 9-year-old son, and the 2-year-old son we have together. Caring for four children, including one with special needs and another who is an active, curious toddler, is not easy. Doing it during a pandemic that has made life much more difficult for both kids and adults has been especially challenging.

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Lessons from a Malawian Farmer on Climate Change, Food Justice and Gender Equity

Feb 3, 2022, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Can people in the United States heed the lessons offered by Malawian farmers and use them to build a healthier and more equitable future?

A large tree in a field. Photo Credit: Kartemquin Films

This is the question at the heart of the award-winning film by director Raj Patel, "The Ants and the Grasshopper." It follows farmer, mother, and teacher Anita Chitaya as she travels from her home in Malawi across the United States to engage farmers, food justice advocates, and climate skeptics in conversations about how we can build a healthy future.

Malawi is struggling with severe child malnutrition. Rising temperatures and extreme drought have made it tougher to grow nutritious food and pushed more families into hunger and poverty. In the film, we meet and travel with Anita, who mobilizes people in her village—encouraging farmers to try new agriculture methods and plant nutrient-rich food, and even getting men involved in cooking family meals to help children in Malawi grow up healthy. We learn that Anita and the people in her village have achieved the seemingly impossible—tackling the issues of patriarchy, child malnutrition, and climate change in interconnected and impactful ways.

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This Valuable Data Tool Informs Policies that Shape Child Opportunity

Jan 25, 2022, 11:00 AM, Posted by Dolores Acevedo-Garcia

Millions of children live in neighborhoods with limited access to safe housing, green space, or good schools. Data can inform efforts by local leaders to build a brighter, more equitable future for all children.

Child Opportunity Tool blog graphic.

The pandemic has underscored how profoundly factors like where we live, our income, the kind of job we have, and our race and ethnicity affect our health, well-being, and ability to prosper. Some families and children in the United States have had the resources to weather this storm. But far too many have struggled to meet their basic needs. A poll from late 2021 found that about half of households with children had no savings to fall back on. Significantly more Black and Latino households with children and households with incomes below $50,000 reported not having this buffer.

These are not individual failures. They are societal and systemic—stemming from the pervasive and persistent harm caused by long-standing racism, redlining, and segregation. They affect immigrant families, too, who have trouble accessing social safety net programs, even if they are U.S. citizens.

To advance equity for all, we must address child poverty, unequal access to education and healthcare, and environmental conditions for what they are—structural and systemic in nature. Change can start in your backyard.

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Protecting Employee Health in Tomorrow’s Workplace

Jan 13, 2022, 11:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

The pandemic, renewed attention to racial justice, climate threats, and evolving technology herald huge changes in the nature of work. To center equity in that shift, policies, practices, and culture need to change, too.

Future of Work illustration.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020, the workplace almost instantly transformed. Many people began working remotely and long commutes vanished. Despite heightened anxiety and danger, the public health emergency ushered in unexpected benefits for some in the form of flexibility, accommodations to family life, and recognition of “whole person” needs.

In frontline settings, such as healthcare, grocery stores, public transit systems, and manufacturing sites, the situation was drastically different. While the workers who kept these essential services operating were rightly touted as heroes, many had little choice but to risk infection, hospitalization, and death to keep the lights on for the rest of us.

These very different experiences show the challenges we face as the structure and nature of work evolves. How the risks and opportunities are distributed in that emerging future will largely depend on the decisions we make as a society.

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Uprooting Racism to Advance Health Equity

Jan 4, 2022, 11:00 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

Can we break free from a history of racism that has taken a brutal toll on health? These trailblazers offer hope through their efforts to advance racial justice and health equity.

Race, Health and Equity

In 1966 our nation’s great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., proclaimed that of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman. All these years later, this remains painfully true.

Study after study documents racism's brutal impact on health. Compared to White women, Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy, childbirth, or within a year after giving birth; Indigenous women face that prospect 2 to 3 times more often than Whites. Black and Latino adults disproportionately report being treated unfairly in healthcare settings because of their race or ethnicity and Blacks experience adverse patient safety events more frequently, even in the same hospital and with comparable insurance coverage. Even the consequences of climate change do their greatest damage to people of color, who are consistently exposed to higher levels of air pollution, live in hotter neighborhoods, and face greater food insecurity as agricultural patterns shift.

The impact of structural racism—the system in which our nation’s policies, institutional practices and cultural representation perpetuate racial inequity—became glaringly more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the anguishing murder of George Floyd. In an important step to advance racial equity and justice, many states and cities across the nation have declared racism a public health crisis.

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In Mexico, Healthy Food Is a Child’s Right

Dec 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Ana Larrañaga

Last year, Mexico took a tremendous step toward prioritizing childrens’ health by banning junk foods and sugary drinks.

A young girl at a produce stand.

“Children have the right to be in environments that are health promoting and free of unhealthy foods and drinks.” —Ana Larrañaga works with Salud Crítica, a public health advocacy organization based in Mexico City

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the State of Childhood Obesity website.

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, legislators in Mexico moved swiftly to ban the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.

Oaxaca was the first state to approve junk food bans.

This started as a true grassroots movement, ignited by the strong community advocacy of 13 different Indigenous groups who were determined to protect people from diabetes and obesity—and prevent the displacement of traditional foods that are deeply rooted in their culture. They fought to prohibit distributors from delivering sugary drinks and junk food to their local stores.

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Transforming Rural Health Through Economic Development

Nov 17, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by Maryam Khojasteh

The challenges and opportunities for rural America are complex. While rural economic development has come a long way in the last 40 years, we still have a lot to learn. 

Aerial image of a rural town.

RWJF’s Maryam Khojasteh sat down with Janet Topolsky, who served as the executive director of the Community Strategies Group at the Aspen Institute, to discuss rural economic development, the challenges and opportunities facing rural America, and what the future holds for improving rural economies. Topolsky, who stepped down after a 40-year career working on developing opportunities and capacity in rural America, oversaw the development of the Thrive Rural framework, an effort begun by the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (Aspen CSG) in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Thrive Rural framework aims to organize learning, strengthen understanding, and catalyze and align action around what it will take for communities and Native nations across the rural United States to be healthy places where everyone belongs, lives with dignity, and thrives.

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Four Ways to Support Men in Solving America’s Caregiving Crisis

Nov 9, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by Gina Hijjawi

Caregiving is one of the greatest challenges of our time, with significant implications for families and our economy. 

Men and children illustration.

The pandemic has exacerbated the struggles facing many who care for children, aging relatives, loved ones with disabilities, and family members who are sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses. With long-stalled federal investments in a care economy, paid family and medical leave, and other policy and workplace reforms under consideration, my colleagues and I weighed in on the role men can play in providing unpaid and paid care in a series of posts this year.

They are based on reports from New America that explore the cultural, legal, and other changes that would enable more men to do this essential work.

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