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Public Health’s ‘Moonshot’ – Part 2: A Local Context

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Courtesy of Inspector Insight

 

In the first post of this series, I briefly described healthcare system expenditures, as a percent of GDP, for the U.S. and a number of OECD member countries. When coupled with population health outcomes data, the amount spent per person on healthcare in the U.S. seems excessive and arguably wasteful. Individual health behaviors, genetics and a broad range of social and environmental factors account for 90% of an individual’s risk for premature death. Addressing the factors outside the healthcare system, through a reallocation of spending into social services such as employment programs and supportive housing, may play a key role in improving population health outcomes.

Social determinants of health are “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age”. As such, a contextual understanding of communities and their history is critical to tackling deep-seated social issues. Below, I focus on the community of Durham, North Carolina for place-based contextual understanding.

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is the nation’s largest philanthropic organization dedicated to improve health. RWJF’s focus, once solely on innovation in the healthcare system, has evolved to address the social and environmental factors as well in “building a culture of health.” Shifting the way society viewed health – from the absence of illness – was an integral part in this movement. It emphasized health as a resource for living fulfilling lives and collectively contributing to a competitive and thriving nation. It developed and strengthened relationships with key stakeholders and facilitated cross-sector collaboration. And it’s engaging leaders in communities.

In 2013, RWJF named six communities with its “Culture of Health Prize.” Distinct from its traditional grantmaking program, this prize awards $25,000 to communities for the work and successes they have already achieved. By shining a spotlight on a selected group of communities each year, RWJF is able to share lessons and first-hand knowledge with community leaders nationwide. Durham, North Carolina, was one of six communities selected for the Culture of Health Prize in 2014 for the work the Partnership for a Healthy Durham has done since 2004. The Partnership is just one example of community-engaged efforts to improve the lives of Durham residents. A few additional innovative models will be introduced in subsequent posts to illustrate social impact at the local level and offer ideas to accelerate their collective impact.

Durham

Approximately 250 miles southwest of our Nation’s capital, Durham is situated at the northernmost point of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, with Raleigh and Chapel Hill to its east and west, respectively. In its former life, the city was well-known for tobacco and textile production, but fast forward to 2017 and the “City of Medicine” is in a constant state of transformation. Durham was recently anointed as a destination for foodies, “The South’s Tastiest Town,” and boasts a vibrant and diverse culinary and social scene. A major factor in its Renaissance was a collective effort to attract entrepreneurs and catalyze innovation. Community and business leaders invested a significant amount of resources to revitalize downtown and its efforts appear to be paying off. Once described a “nascent startup scene” by Madrigal in the Atlantic, now exudes self-confidence with two Durham-based startups collecting back-to-back wins in 2014 and 2015 at Google Demo Day in Silicon Valley. The startup community has also made waves nationwide for its efforts to empower and nurture diversity; its epicenter, American Underground, a Google Tech Hub, houses 48.2% minority- or female-led companies thanks to initiatives like Code 2040 – a nonprofit organization that creates pathways to the technology industry for underrepresented minorities – and strong partnerships within the Research Triangle.

History

In the early 20th century, Durham had the most African American millionaires per capita than any other city in the U.S. Their success in finance and insurance was evident with a section of downtown named “Black Wall Street” (Forbes) and the city was also known as the “Capital of the Black Middle Class”. The Hayti District, an independent black community founded shortly after the Civil War, became a self-sufficient community and housed residents of all social class along with a variety of businesses, schools, library, hotel and a hospital. African Americans owned and operated over 200 businesses within the boundaries of the District. It flourished for decades through the 1940s until an urban renewal project in the 1950s tore through more than 200 acres in the heart of Hayti, displacing residents and businesses alike. The project was intended to ease commuting for suburban residents by realigning streets and construction of “the Durham Freeway”, NC-147.

Historically, urban regeneration or renewal served as a method for social reform in England to address substandard and unsanitary living conditions in rapidly growing industrialized cities. In the U.S., it came in the form of federal policies used to “reshape” American cities. The Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954 disbursed federal funding for cities to “acquire” areas identified as “slums” and were given to private developers to construct new housing. Additionally, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 allocated 90% of federal funding to states to construct new highways that connected to the larger Interstate System. Large urban cities including New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston undertook urban renewal projects like Durham in the 1950s. While urban renewal projects generated economic development and improved quality of life in those cities, the destruction of neighborhoods left former residents in dire situations.

Poverty

A slow decline in manufacturing of textile and tobacco in Durham in the 1950s resulted in rising unemployment among working-class black residents due to segregation and discrimination. Coupled with urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s and Civil Rights movements, the divide between whites and blacks grew. Sarah Willets of Indy Week describes an initial divide between affluent landowners and its workers even when the city was incorporated in 1869. An initial divide in opportunity which persists to this day.

“While some parts of Durham have single-digit and even less-than-1-percent poverty rates, in other neighborhoods, half the residents struggle to make ends meet.” — Sarah Willets, Indy Week

“We’ve always been taught the story of America is one of upward mobility. Durham very much embodies that. But some of the darker sides of the American story are here too.” — Justin Cook, Photographer, Slate Magazine

Photographer Justin Cook’s series, “Made in Durham” and various other pieces in the Indy illustrate what Willets captures in her story on Mayor Bell’s lasting dichotomous legacy – a thriving upward mobility amongst young professionals contrasted with historically African American neighborhoods that struggle with staggering rates of poverty and violence.

Alison Templeton, a research assistant at the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, released an update on urban poverty in Durham using current Census data in 2013. Templeton identified census tracts as “distressed” based on its performance compared to the state’s average on the following: per capita income, unemployment and poverty rates. 22% distressed census tracts in Durham County were identified in the report, which rose from 15% back in 2000. Other poverty-related statistics in Durham’s distressed tracts:

Poverty 46.7%
Child poverty 55.2%
Elderly poverty 25.6%
HS graduation 72.6%
Families led by Single Mothers 66.5%
Homeownership 27.6%

Poverty and the consequences of sustained poverty for individuals and communities significantly impact population health outcomes. Understanding historical context is a crucial first step in adequately addressing deep-seated social issues.

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Public Health’s ‘Moonshot’ – Part 1

Advocates for cancer research and prevention efforts converged in Washington, D.C. last week for One Voice Against Cancer’s (OVAC) annual lobby day on Capitol Hill. OVAC, a collaboration of roughly 50 national non-profit organizations, delivered a unified message to Members of Congress on June 6 on the need for increased cancer-related appropriations. A point of discussion in my meetings with legislative staff was the President’s Budget Proposal for FY 2018, which featured budget cuts at both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and increases for the Department of Defense. Armed with OVAC “asks”, I decided to focus my meetings with legislative staff from Senators Burr and Tillis and Representative Butterfield on the economic impact in North Carolina if funding levels were reduced. North Carolina is home to three National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers, which are awarded over $2B in annual NIH funding and employs thousands of employees.

Our advocacy training included a presentation by Dr. Warren Kibbe from NCI on the state of NIH funding and a quick brief on the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Led by former Vice President Joe Biden, the initiative focused on concentrated and collective action to accelerate a decade’s worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer into a five-year time frame. The Cancer Moonshot has buy-in from academic, public and private sector partnerships. My immediate thought: why doesn’t public health have this type of dedicated initiative with annual federally-appropriated funds?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health initiative is public health’s “moonshot”. Its Action Framework parallels the Cancer Moonshot Initiative in identifying focus areas and key performance metrics to measure progress. RWJF’s Culture of Health has achieved significant buy-in from a myriad of cross-sector stakeholders. The only distinction between the two initiatives, from my perspective, is dedicated federal support. Imagine the possibilities if public health’s “moonshot” received the same attention and resources as the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. A decade’s worth of progress in a 5-year timeline for the social determinants of health would really change the trajectory of the field of public health.

In the next few posts, I plan to take a deeper dive on exploring innovative ways to address the social determinants of health, specifically at the local level, in the city where I currently live – Durham, North Carolina.

Below, I offer background on the U.S.’s healthcare system to provide a larger context the many layers and contributors to an individual’s health outcomes.

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Healthcare expenditures in the United States was approximately $3.2T, or $9,900 per capita, in 2015 which accounted for 17.8% of its gross domestic product (GDP). When compared to 12 other high-income member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. spent significantly more annually. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the U.S. spent roughly $3000 more than Switzerland, the runner-up in per capita spending, in 2013. As a result, it outspent the next highest spender, France, by 5.5% of GDP in 2013. But despite its additional spending, the U.S. underperforms on population health outcomes such as life expectancy and chronic disease prevalence when compared with other OECD countries. Additionally in its analysis, the Commonwealth Fund compared healthcare expenditures to those spent on social services – retirement, disability benefits, employment programs and supportive housing, among others – for 11 OECD countries. In this comparison, the U.S. spent the least on social services at 9% of GDP, with Canada and Australia spending 10% and 11% of GDP, respectively. France and Sweden spent the most on social services at 21% of GDP. This imbalance in spending, posit the authors, may contribute to the country’s poor health outcomes.

Policies to improve population health have historically focused on the healthcare system according to Kaiser Family Foundation’s Heiman and Artiga. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, expanded access to healthcare services for millions of Americans. However, as the authors explain, research demonstrates that healthcare is a relatively weak health determinant. Individual health behaviors, genetics and a broad range of social and environmental factors account for 90% of an individual’s risk for premature death. Thus, addressing the factors outside of the healthcare system may play a key role in improving population health outcomes, and the value it generates could justify reallocation of current spending levels.

Social determinants of health are “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age”. Examples of social determinants of health include social economic status, educational attainment, the physical environment, employment and social support networks. Social determinants form the basic foundation for each individual and his/her life experience. It also sets a baseline for future health outcomes. For example, an individual who is unemployed for an extended period of time may become homeless, food insecure and have limited access to healthcare services. It’s reasonable to conclude that this individual may be at higher risk of premature death due to his/her life experience. Unfortunately people all over the world have lives filled with adversity and struggle. Social, economic and/or environmental disadvantage creates differences in health outcomes, also known as health disparities, in populations across the world. One goal of Healthy People 2020, a strategic 10-year plan to improve U.S. population health, is to achieve the highest level of health for all people. Health equity includes the elimination of health and healthcare disparities.

One population of interest are known as “high utilizers” or vulnerable patients with complex social, behavioral and health needs. According to Anderson, the top 5% of individual utilizers account for about 50% of overall healthcare expenditures. Programs that pair patient navigators, community health workers and behavioral health resources with identified “high utilizers” have been implemented recently with hopes of improving health outcomes and generating value. A thorough review and analysis of the results for impact and effectiveness in improving health and cutting costs for this subset of patients is a critical next step.

Public Health in Action – Anchored Upstream

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Public Health River Metaphor

A man was fishing in the river when he noticed someone was drowning. He pulled them out and attempted to resuscitate them. Shortly afterwards, he noticed another person in the river and saved them too. He then noticed another, and another and another. Soon he was exhausted and realized he would not be able save all of the drowning people.

He went further upstream to find out why all these people were falling into the river.

On arriving further upstream, he discovered a broken bridge was causing people to fall into the river and end up drowning where he had been fishing.  He decided he would fix the bridge to stop them falling in, instead of fishing them out after they were already drowning.

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There’s a radio ad campaign for the Powerball Lottery in my local area, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina that has stood out to me more than the hundreds of others I hear on the radio. In the ad,’Wolfman’ (picture Michael J. Fox in the Teen Wolf movie) visits the barber shop for his regular hair cut. ‘Wolfman’ throws out a few ideas – maybe I should shave it all off? “Or maybe a mullet?” His barber asks why the sudden change from his usual cut. ‘Wolfman’ described that his life was so monotonous lately and he wanted to change things up a bit. The barber then responds by recommending that ‘Wolfman’ purchase a Powerball ticket because every jackpot is worth at least $40 million – a life-changing amount; a change that  coincidentally ‘Wolfman’ was looking for. A disclaimer followed in the final seconds stating the odds of winning a Powerball jackpot, which was a measly 1/292 million. Ads, like this one, that tap into our well of emotions leave us particularly susceptible to any product that marketers are hawking, despite the impossible odds or practical necessity in one’s life.

While 1/292 million are nearly impossible odds, 1/4 seems almost certain in comparison. A recent article from the Atlantic highlighted results from Urban Institute’s study on medical debt. 23.8% of adults under 65 in the US has medical debt. Southern states, like Mississippi and Arkansas, have higher rates of medical debt – both over 35%. Furthermore, insurance coverage had a minimal positive effect: 23% of adults with health insurance still had medical debt compared to 31% of uninsured. As mentioned in the article, this has been a common criticism of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare: that expanding health insurance does little to reduce high costs of health care for individuals (out-of-pocket costs) as well as the healthcare system as a whole.

Health policy in most recent years have been focused primarily on health insurance and affordable access to healthcare services. In the river metaphor above, focusing on health insurance would be akin to pulling people out of the river while they were drowning – providing them healthcare when they were sick, rather than figuring out how to prevent, or at least greatly reduce the risk of, illness. In public health and health care lingo this is what’s referred to as “looking upstream.”

In my interview below, Dr. James Leone, professor at Bridgewater State University, describes his career in “looking upstream.” Other upstream heroes of mine include:

Dr. Rishi Manchanda

Dr. Camara Jones

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Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as professor at Bridgewater State University.  Describe why you’re passionate about Improving men’s health…why others should care about the health disparities between genders.

James Leone: My journey into public health education and higher education was a bit random/arbitrary. I began in clinical practice serving as a certified athletic trainer (ATC) where I worked in various settings including: professional with the New England Patriots, clinical outreach at high school, collegiate and physical therapy clinics. I also worked with coordinating rehabilitation clinics and strength and conditioning services in a variety of settings. Not too long into my clinical practice, I received an offer to teach sports medicine/athletic training at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which was a new challenge for me professionally. I continued to teach and clinically practice, but my love of education rose to the top of my priorities, so I pursued a PhD in public health education. I saw value in what I could contribute on an individual level with people, however, my brain has always been geared towards the “bigger picture” – I guess you can say I embrace an upstream mentality/approach. This was my entry into health promotion and public health studies. I made my way up to Bridgewater State University (BSU) after serving on faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Northeastern University, and The George Washington University (GWU). Additionally, I currently serve as an adjunct professor at Northeastern University where I have taught courses in athletic training, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, and recently in the master of public health program.

As previously mentioned I have embraced a more “upstreamist” approach in my world and professional view. That said, I realized that male health always seemed to be lacking whether from personal experience or reviewing study after study and large data sets. I always have championed efforts to advocate for groups, be it my athletes or gender (in this case). Also, in 2007 I was approached by my former Chairperson at GWU to offer a class in men’s health, which I quickly embraced since my thought process was already in-tune with this topic. I quickly realized that evidence was lacking in terms of “why” men live sicker and die sooner than women. Also, there were few academic resources (i.e. books) from which to facilitate the topic. I set out consuming as much as I could to develop my course and my knowledge in this area of research. This journey led me to propose a textbook on male health (published in 2012) as well as develop two courses on male health (one at GWU and the other at BSU, presently). I am currently pursuing opportunities to develop male health curricula further so that beyond greater awareness of the topic and issues, we can move dialogue into action and advocacy by training public health professionals and providers on gender-specific needs of men and boys.

So, why do I care about male health topics? I have always been an advocate for people, ethics, and basic human rights. Poor health outcomes in males challenges these aforementioned principles, negatively impacting overall population health. From the public health perspective, we are morally and professionally obligated to help right these wrongs so as to create a more equitable society aimed at a “true public health for all.” I believe Sir Geoffrey Vickers captured it best in his quote, “public health consists of “a successive re-defining of the unacceptable.” I believe gender disparities, particularly those affecting men have been “unacceptable” and warrant our full and undivided attention at present times.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

JL: My commitment is based on my ethics and morals, which guide my actions. My intolerance for average often guides my “drive” to improve most things in my personal life and professional practice. Knowing that I do work that directly corresponds to people’s health and experiences is more than enriching for me on a daily basis. When times get rough I often remain mindful of the transient nature of life and experiences – the viewpoint “nothing is guaranteed in life” often helps me to keep my life and work perspectives in check most days.

Me: I saw your presentation at this year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) conference on men’s health as a national security concern.  Can you describe your perspective on this issue?

JL: I was in a graduate school lecture discussing public health initiatives and Harry Truman’s 1946 speech was referenced in the talk. As part of that talk, Truman commented on the nature of the military and investing in the health of the youth to strengthen the defense system of the U.S. Of course, at the time, the vast majority of the military were younger men whose overall health and qualifications for military service were being called into question. The latter point got me thinking as to what it would be today; likely, things have gotten worse with rising overweight and obesity issues nationally. This perspective motivated my presentation at APHA in November. Overall, I think this is an incredibly important issue for two main reasons: 1. Of course we want to a strong system of defense if called upon, and 2. And perhaps most importantly, poor men’s health brings to light the overall issues in male health in the U.S. When we are able to gain the attention of the Department of Justice and Department of Defense, we might actually see Congress move on some of the issues in men’s health that we have been advocating for over the past few decades.

Me: What made you decide to be involved in the men’s health movement and the American Public Health Association Men’s Health Caucus (MHC)?

JL: I saw the APHA MHC as a strong platform from which to pool my energies and resources on advancing male health. I value like-minded people, but also, I am challenged by various ways of thinking and working towards solutions in these groups. I have learned that even though there is a shared value and perspective, we all have something unique to contribute to the conversation over men’s health. The men’s health movement attracts me simply because we as a society must look upstream to the issues that we generalize and deal with downstream. We have grown too normalized with poor men’s health and the forces that drive it. I think working with Men’s Health Network, MHC, and APHA can embolden an area that has gone largely unnoticed even at the detriment of society.

Me: What are the current needs in the Boston metro area (or focus in on the city you live in) as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

JL: I consider Boston and the surrounding areas as “lucky” because we have so much access to health, healthcare, education, and most of the social determinants that can positively affect population health. However, when we look below the generalized population data, we still see a consistent and stark contrast in the health of the privileged and the socially marginalized as with most other major cities. Boston struggles to meet the needs of harder to reach populations and men just like most other major cities in the U.S. We do have some excellent and progressive programming such as the Men’s Health Center (Whittier Street) in Roxbury and the men’s health program through Cambridge, however, the salient question is always: are we meeting the needs of the most vulnerable at the right moments so as to promote long-term individual and population health – I guess time and statistics will tell that story.

Public Health in Action – Linked Up/In

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead’s quote eloquently describes what I see on a regular basis living and working in Durham, North Carolina. Since moving south from Washington, D.C. two years ago, I’m consistently humbled and inspired to hear what various groups are doing to improve the local community.

I recently attended a meeting hosted by the North Carolina Chapter of the B Corporation and heard a brief presentation from local B Corp Seth Gross, owner of Durham-based brewpub, Bull City Burger. In his remarks, he described how he opened Bull City Burger in 2011 and noticed a significant turnover in staff he had during his first year. After thoughtful consideration, he decided to focus more time, effort and resources on creating a work environment that was conducive to staff retention and a greater community impact. Bull City Burger was one of the, if not the, first restaurant to become certified as a B Corp in 2014. His leadership, willingness to share his story and advice to other restaurateurs and business owners have inspired countless others. North Carolina boasts 37 certified B Corps throughout the state.

Seth’s story with Bull City Burger is just one story among so many others that reflect the city’s level of community engagement.

My interview with Rob Shields, below, takes a deeper dive into the non-profit organization ReCity and its role in “rewriting the story” of Durham.

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“Durham incubator works to aid youth employment” local ABC news clip: http://abc11.com/video/embed/?pid=1722793

Rob Shields, Executive Director of ReCity

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as Executive Director of ReCity.  Describe why you’re passionate about addressing youth disconnection…why others should care about the work you’re doing.

Rob Shields: I’ve been in the youth development space for my whole career – sports coach to a campus-based youth ministry Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) to my current role as Executive Director at ReCity – and although my roles have differed, my professional interests have been in serving youth.

Through the years, I became more aware of division within communities. It really opened my eyes to the reality that communities of color experienced in daily life. The gap between rich and poor was huge and I became discontent with structures and systems that reinforced widening of that gap. From there I wanted to focus on community development and envisioned a thriving community where all individuals had opportunities to succeed. And that’s what attracted me to this role at ReCity. I wondered if this model could this be the solution to magnify programs that were already working and facilitate connections to foster collaboration between those programs. We aren’t trying to compete or reinvent the wheel, but our driving force is how best to serve the community.

I have a strong conviction and belief that talent is equally distributed but opportunity isn’t. And this bothers me. Everyone has dignity and we all have God-given skills and abilities and I want to be part of a city that has opportunities for all to find their way. The gap between rich and poor is too wide and ReCity would ideally play a role in creating the city as it should be.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

RS: I draw a lot of inspiration from my Christian faith. My belief in serving a god that is redemptive and restorative in nature. I’m inspired to follow in his example of being involved in work that restores and I feel called to do so. My wife and kids are another source of inspiration and perspective. The startup world is tough and it’s so easy to lose one’s identity in work. My family provides me a constant reminder that I have other priorities that I’m responsible for. They bring balance by slowing me down to a marathon pace when I’m normally sprinting.

Me: Can you tell us more about ReCity and your vision for the next 5 or 10 years?

RS: ReCity is a co-working space for nonprofits and mission-driven organizations committed to restoring opportunities for disconnected youth and their families in Durham. Our space empowers our partner organizations to work alongside each other to close the opportunity gaps in our community through strengthening collaboration and pooling resources as well as social capital to achieve collective impact.

In five years we envision ReCity playing a role in rallying the city to act collectively to address social issues like youth disconnection. And since youth disconnection is a complex mix of underlying core social issues, a focus on youth disconnection specifically would simultaneously address disparities and injustices in other areas like education, housing, and transportation among others. We hope to provide a path to stable employment to 1,000 youth by our third year.

In 10 years, I can see our model as a template to address any complex social issue in any city. The beauty in our model is its simplicity. Living out shared values together in a shared space can accelerate the collaboration needed to solve complex problems plaguing cities nationwide. At the core, these issues are not unique to Durham and we hope that others can find value in what we’re doing.

Me: What role does the community have in addressing social issues like youth disconnection, poverty, unemployment, etc.?

RS: Community leaders are vital in shaping our work. We fully recognize that it’s their community; they are the most invested and are the key stakeholders, which is why we follow their lead when it comes to planning and decision-making. ReCity’s role in addressing youth disconnection in Durham has evolved since our inception because of their unwavering support, input and feedback.

Leaders in the community have the biggest voice in addressing social issues, and since ReCity doesn’t provide direct programs like many non-profits, we have to be very selective in working with organizations that are well-respected in the greater Durham community. These organizations must use appropriate methods when addressing core issues, with a focus on personal and professional development over reinforcing the need for ongoing services. Durham’s population is culturally diverse, therefore the youth we serve are equally diverse. 56% of ReCity partner organizations are minority-led, which is critical for us because one our driving core values as an organization is to reflect the diversity of the community we serve.

Me: What are the current needs in the Raleigh-Durham metro area (or focus in on the city you live in) as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

RS: Affordable housing is a huge concern, which is why I’m excited our network has added partners doing amazing work in this area like Housing for New Hope and Jubilee Home. Providing shelter is only one aspect, but creating paths to social mobility and wealth creation through home-ownership is the key. If we can make progress in raising rates of home-ownership, there’s potential to break generational cycles of systemic injustice and poverty.

Access to regular, reliable transportation is another issue, especially for the youth that our network serves. ReCity has started to consolidate services and resources among our partner organizations and we hope to one day be a “one-stop shop” for every type of resource needed to serve children and families more efficiently and holistically. We also hope innovative partnerships can help improve access to regular, reliable transportation. Private companies already have the vehicles and drivers – it’s a matter of reallocating funds to local transportation companies like Uber or Lyft to serve our target populations. Often times, the highest impact isn’t a result of new programs being created, but from intentionally re-purposing or redirecting the resources that are already in place. And that’s what ReCity is all about.

Public Health in Action – Seas of Change

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We’re nine days into the new year. Nine days into a fresh start, a clean slate. Many shared in eager anticipation and relief for 2016 to be over and done with in both mainstream and social media. But even though we’ve entered 2017, a magic reset button wasn’t pressed. The same issues we faced 10 days ago will still be the same issues we face this year and for many years after.

I imagine that Jason Roberts faced the same realization over a decade ago. Issues do carry over, year after year, unless something or someone shook things up. Earlier today, I watched Jason’s story as a regular citizen in a neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. His curiosity led to endless questions. The single most important question that kept popping up was “why not?” Why can’t things be different? With a mix of curiosity, resourcefulness, creativity, determination and passion, he made significant, long-lasting impacts that improved the quality of life in those Dallas neighborhoods, block by block.

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I was born in 1983 and I spent most of my childhood before the internet ever existed. I grew up playing sports outside, trading sports cards, playing video games and reading comic books. I was even caught up in that Pog epidemic of the 90s – try explaining Pogs to a teenager nowadays and they’d probably tell you “there’s an app for that”.

Terry and Justin Raimey grew up on comics too, and they were also passionate about food. Their passions fused when they co-founded Black Streak Kitchen.

Terry shares a snapshot of their story below.

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Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current roles as co-founders of Black Streak Kitchen (BSK).  Describe why you’re passionate about improving health behaviors in youth through nutrition education…why others should care about the work you’re doing.

Terry L. Raimey: Justin and I have always had an interest in health, wellness and cooking. Our mom and dad cooked everyday when we were kids, so we never really ate out. When we moved out of our parents’ home, we carried on the tradition of cooking for ourselves – creating new dishes by combining fresh meats, vegetables, fruits, grains and spices.

I am a writer and Justin is the artist and graphic designer of everything Black Streak Entertainment (Black Streak Kitchen’s parent company). We wanted to do something new and unique with our stories and artwork, something no one else in the comics and animation industry had ever done.

One day, I saw an ad for one of those grocery/recipe delivery services and thought it would be really cool to apply our artwork to something like that, and gear it towards kids, teens and families. So, we created Black Streak Kitchen as a source to teach kids, teens and families that cooking healthy can be delicious, while also teaching them how the ingredients can benefit their bodies and minds.

I love to cook and create new dishes by fusing unorthodox fresh ingredients and flavors. I love how eating healthy makes me feel and look; it’s very satisfying to me. And I want everyone to experience that satisfaction.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the amount of children with type-2 diabetes, which is associated with obesity, jumped more than 30% from 2000 to 2009. When we were growing up, diabetes was an ‘old-person’ disease and obesity was a grown-up problem, but today, these conditions are affecting our children. One of the best way to combat America’s failing health grade is through cooking and nutrition education. Black Streak Kitchen provides cooking and nutrition education while making the presented material fun and entertaining.

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Image of recipe from Black Streak Kitchen

 

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

TLR: Seeing the reactions of the people we introduce to our brand, getting messages and comments from parents on how our app and comics teach them and their kids so much about cooking and nutrition, and even getting props from chefs and nutrition professionals is what motivates us to keep pushing. We pray and work hard, so it’s a true blessing when the Lord answers through the words of people who enjoy our brand.

Me: Can you tell us more about your collaboration with educators and any key outcomes or success stories from your comic books?

TLR: Well, our first comic doesn’t drop until January 15, but as far as collaborators, we’ve been blessed to have some accomplished chefs come on board. Chef Ed Harris will be featured as a Character Chef in our first issue, presenting his recipe “Roasted Cauliflower Stir Fry”. Chef Harris is the winner of Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ season 4 and ‘Iron Chef International’. We are also collaborating with Chef Robert Stewart, winner of ‘Guy’s Grocery Games’, ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ and star of OWN Network’s ‘Raising Whitley’. Another collaborator of ours is Chef Ethan Taylor. He is the owner of ‘Great EETS’ catering in Los Angeles, CA. He works as a personal chef for numerous A-list celebrities, like Justin Beiber, Jamie Foxx and Mary J. Blige. All of these professionals have great elements to bring to our brand and help us succeed.

Me: What role do you envision comics and visual art having in educating youth?  How much of an impact did comic books play while you two were growing up?  Where do you foresee BSK in the next 5 or 10 years?

TLR: The use for comics and art are limitless. Fusing education with whimsical and visually appealing artwork grabs kids’ attention like nothing else, so it’s the perfect marriage. When were kids, we were big fans of comics. I read every monthly Spider-Man series in publication, and Justin was a big fan of Japanese manga. Comics sparked my imagination and took me on adventures that I could never experience in real life. As a matter of fact, we are still big comic fans!

In 5 to 10 years, we will have a home delivery service where we will deliver our recipe comics and the ingredients for our recipes to families homes. We will also have a cooking and nutrition animated series featuring our characters and signature Black Streak style. Having Black Streak Kitchen product lines through licensing is also a goal of ours.

Me: What are the current needs in the city live in as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

TLR: We live in a suburb outside of Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown used to run off of the steel industry, but once the steel mills shut down, the city was hit hard. Unemployment is high, schools have been shut down, public transportation is limited, there are no grocery stores to purchase healthy food, and there is little opportunity to succeed – it’s quite depressing.

Giving back is important to Justin and I, so we want to sponsor the establishment of community gardens in urban neighborhoods where fresh produce is hard to come-by. Establishing community gardens provides a sustainable food source for the neighborhood residents to draw from. It also helps bring the community together and helps the youth of the community learn a constructive skill that will benefit them for life.

We want to build our own kitchen entertainment empire, while also helping people in need, in particular, black youth.

Public Health in Action – The Secret Life of Males

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It was in fifth grade when I first read a handful of James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  My teacher, Mrs. Dalton, used Thurber as an example of descriptive writing, what she referred to as “Show, not tell” or SNT for short.  I vividly remember writing a story similar to Thurber’s Walter Mitty, where I would drift back and forth from real life to daydreaming and back again – racing a car in my daydream, only to be scolded by the grocery store manager for barreling the shopping cart into an innocent pyramid of watermelons.

Now more than two decades later, I still chuckle at Thurber’s humorous tales; humbled by his seamless transitions between fantasy and reality.  But on a deeper level, the life of Walter Mitty illustrates distinct social norms and narratives.  Walter’s fantasies transport him into a life that’s far more exciting, full of adventure and intrigue, and completely different from his normal life.  He’s the stoic commander of a helicopter flying into a snowstorm or the Air Force captain taking a few drinks of brandy before jumping behind the machine gun turret.  He becomes his own hero; a figure of admiration by those around him.  But the story beneath reveals a few underlying messages to males, in particular: take risks, be heroic and be brave.  And those messages are absorbed, accepted and passed from generation to generation.  These “rites of passage” have a profound effect on personality, lifestyle and behavior. Moreover, they may also explain the following:

Males are:
*less likely to have health insurance
*half as likely to visit a healthcare provider
*employed in the most dangerous of professions – fishing, mining, fire fighting, construction
*more likely to take risks at younger ages

As a result, males aren’t as healthy as their female counterparts.  And for a group of this size, roughly 150 million, the impact on society is a staggering thought.

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I had a chance to catch up with Dr. Michael Rovito, assistant professor at UCF about his passion and interest in men’s health.  Let’s check out his story.

 

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as assistant professor and researcher at UCF.  Describe why you’re passionate about making men healthy…why others should care about the health disparities between genders.

Michael Rovito: I had an unorthodox path to practicing public health, actually. I obtained a BA in Geography and a MA in Urban Studies. I was a bit aimless with life goals and no real idea of what I wanted to do with my career. During my graduate studies, I had a class called ‘Medical Geography’. An epidemiologist taught the course and it opened my eyes to the idea of public health and what I can do, not just with my own career, but for other people. I don’t think we really reflect on how we can assist others with our profession and that was my ‘eureka’ moment with public health.

After I realized I wanted to get into public health, I reflected back on my life and the health behaviors I made when I was younger and I focused in on men’s health. The notion of life course perspective was brand new to me so I dove in head first, borderline psychoanalyzing my past habits and trying to predict my future health outcomes. I chuckle now at my naiveté at the whole process, but it’s what we all do when we discover a new toy or gadget, right? We kind of go overboard a bit. But, I am thankful for my rather intense puzzling of the past with present outcomes as I remembered a time when I was 16 and I discovered a lump on my testicles. I thought it was cancer. Being the mid-90’s, there wasn’t the internet that we know today. No WebMD. No Google. So, I just kept quiet and suffered silently. Eventually I broke down and told my parents. That anxiety is some serious stuff. Worrying about the possibility of having cancer at 16 with no information…it was pretty rough.

Eventually I saw a urologist and fortunately it was not cancer. I went through the cancer scare right around the time of my introduction to public health so I thought to myself that I needed to help other guys who were in the same situation as I was. I wanted to help them feel less confused, more comfortable, and empowered. So, after obtaining my PhD in Public Health from Temple University in Philadelphia, I decided to devote my professional life to, again, helping males get healthier in any way possible – from learning new information to practicing new preventive behaviors. Whatever it took, if I can help even in the slightest sense, I wanted to do that. It seems like a simplistic mantra to explain why I do what I do, but deep down, I think most of us who practice public health have similar ambitions.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

MR: I guess I should say “who” inspires me now is my wife and my daughter, and my little Shiba Inu, Lola. What currently inspires me? Making sure they have the best life possible. Having this new family of mine has REALLY changed my perspective on life. I had always heard while growing up how kids and family life changes you, but I shrugged that off and rolled my eyes at it. I mean, how would I know just how much that would alter my view on life if I never had them? It’s understandable, I guess. But, now, I can’t let them down. That’s what drives me everyday.

But, before my family, my inspiration was to succeed where most of the people I grew up with didn’t. The odds of leaving the little Appalachian town in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania were certainly not in my favor growing up. There’s certainly nothing against not leaving, but I needed to leave. I wanted to leave. So, finding the means possible to leave, to grow, and mature in ways that weren’t readily available to me was my primary motivator. If anyone reading this ever grew up in small town America, they can relate. They can relate to the entirety of John Cougar Mellencamp’s discography serving as the official soundtrack to their lives. My inspiration then was to make a new soundtrack.

Me: Describe your research interests and/or current research projects.

MR: I have two primary research interests: testicular self-examination (TSE) promotion and intervention/instrument design within young adult and adolescent male populations. In terms of the TSE work, I am currently focused in on the health policy side of it all. I am embroiled in a push to directly challenge the USPSTF review of the TSE and its “usefulness”.  In terms of the intervention and instrument design, I developed a series of tools and assessments that can be used in outreach programs that can capture great data on current outcomes and indicators of future outcomes.

Me: What made you decide to be involved in the men’s health movement and the American Public Health Association Men’s Health Caucus (MHC)?

MR: Advocacy is very important to me, as is disseminating my work to a broader body of my peers. MHC does that for me. APHA/MHC provides a pathway, not only to share my work, but also provides a means to collaborate. That’s very important. I can’t stand the thought of being a professor if I can’t profess to people. I can’t stand the thought of having a degree in public health and not actually getting my work into the public. So many of academics don’t actually practice what they preach, which frustrates and angers me. What’s the point? But, MHC is one way that I can get my ideas to others and perhaps implement them in the field.

Me: What are the current needs in central Florida (or focus in on the city you live in) as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

MR: Central Florida has the same needs as pretty much the rest of the country, but it’s just amplified due to the huge population growth and the diversity here, which makes it a bit different than some other areas of the US. But, overall, the needs are the same: we need to inform, we need to empower, we need to advocate.

Public Health in Action – Vital Plan Strives for Impact, One Person at a Time

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There’s one lecture from graduate school that I constantly remember. In that particular Healthcare Delivery in the U.S. course lecture, my professor walked through a clinical visit with a recurring patient. Medical students and residents learn to obtain three important pieces of information from the patient: chief complaint (the reason for their visit), symptoms and a brief medical history. He then opened it up to us – was there anything else we would like to know? Coming from a public health perspective, our questions dove deeper into the social determinants of health -physical environment (housing), SES (access to health insurance, employment), etc. –  to clarify if there were any underlying issues causing the patient to return with similar health issues. That deeper dive, he said, was the distinction between the fields of medicine and public health.

An article published by WBUR last month illustrates a shift in medical school and residency programs to integrate public health principles, most notably the social determinants of health, into their learning objectives.

A holistic understanding of each patient is ideal when tailoring a plan not only to treat illness, but to achieve long-term well-being. The whole-person approach to treating chronic illness is what makes Vital Plan a unique part of the vast healthcare landscape.

My interview with CEO Braden Rawls catching up 2 years after our first interview, below.

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Me: I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years since I published our first blog interview.  How’s Vital Plan?  What’s new that you can share with us?

Braden Rawls: It’s been a busy two years! Vital Plan has grown its customer base significantly, and this has allowed us to recruit ten new team members to continue improving our programs and expanding our reach. What really clicked for Vital Plan was selling our herbal supplement products in bundles alongside supportive health programs. Our signature program is the Restore Program, which includes four supplements plus health coaching support and a six month online course with education about restoring balance in the body through diet and lifestyle.  We’ve received very positive feedback on this program from customers and have expanded it to an international audience, with customers across Europe, Canada and Australia.

Me:  Why was it important for Vital Plan to become B Corporation Certified?

BR:  B Corp certification is important for Vital Plan to showcase third-party verification of our commitment to doing business with integrity. We are on a mission to restore and rebuild trust in the herbal supplement industry after its reputation was tarnished by deceitful players. Being able to showcase our commitment to doing business with integrity has already proven valuable in gaining new customers and recruiting talent. From the start, our goal has been to empower everyone that our organization teaches individuals to become more proactive about their health and to be mindful of the way they live. B Corp gives us a framework to support this mission and put best practices in place to grow our company in a smart, sustainable way.

Me:  One of the illnesses that Vital Plan focuses on is Lyme Disease.  Could you describe why it’s been a major focus for Vital Plan?  How does Vital Plan’s approach differ from traditional approaches?

BR:  Lyme disease is an illness that is personal for Vital Plan, as our founder, Dr. Bill Rawls, suffered with pain and insomnia for many years before ultimately testing positive for Lyme disease. However, Dr. Rawls’ personal struggle motivated him to research microbial illness from all angles, and he feels that Lyme disease is only one microbe of thousands behind chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Rawls believes that the true problem is not the stealthy microbes, but rather suppression of our immune systems that is allowing these stealthy microbes to flourish. He feels that chronic immune dysfunction is the real driver of the increase in chronic disease in developed countries, as exposure to toxins, radiation, stress and processed foods has depressed our immune system and is allowing microbial disease to flourish.

Me:  Vital Plan’s belief in addressing the underlying causes of disease is non-traditional.  Could you speak why your team is so passionate about taking this route?

BR:  The approach of treating symptoms is valuable for helping an individual to live more comfortably short term, but it is generally not a long term solution for fostering wellness.  Our team believes that disease in the body is often the result of environmental and dietary factors that are under our control, such as inflammatory food, chronic stress, and exposure to toxins and microbes. Through awareness of these disease factors, we believe that better health is in reach for many individuals. We feel that herbal medicine and natural healing modalities are also effective tools for individuals to take advantage of to promote healing and restore balance in the body.

Me:  Based on the patients that Vital Plan serves, what would you say are the biggest challenges for them to get back to normal? “Normal” being before their respective diseases produced symptoms so severe that it affected their quality of life.

BR:  For many people, diet and lifestyle changes are very difficult. However, once a person realizes that the food they are eating (or busy schedules they are slaves to) is making them sick, the changes become much easier to adopt. When you begin to associate foods or lifestyle practices with feeling good, your body will begin to crave those foods and practices instead of the ones that make you feel bad. It is all about training your brain to make those connections. Accelerating those connections for people is a big part of the mission behind our programs at Vital Plan.