carrieHow Can We Get to a Healthier America?

By: Carrie Varoquiers In: 2010 Annual Conference

25 Apr 2010

As much as I was hoping for a silver bullet to improve the health status of Americans, not surprisingly there weren’t any earth shattering strategies presented for how we can get America healthy at today’s Council on Foundations Annual Conference session on health care.  As we all know, there is a complex web of factors that need to be addressed in order for us to achieve the health outcomes we seek.  However, the distinguished panel listed below did touch upon a few key themes.

Moderator: Susan Dentzer
Presenters: Kati Haycock- President, Education Trust; David Williams, Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology, Harvard University; Derek Yach, SVP, Global Health Policy, PepsiCo; Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink

First, Americans should be healthier.  Not only because we spend more on health than other countries and are not keeping pace in our health outcomes, but also for economic reasons.  Professor Williams showed us a slide that said if all Americans had the same health as college educated Americans, the US economy would gain $1 trillion annually.  Can we use the idea of economic gains to spur more people into action?

Second, it seems to all come down to education.  A mother’s education status affects her children’s health status; a child’s education level affects his or her health status, and so on.  Ms. Haycock repeated a bold statement about prioritizing funding for high achieving teachers in low-income communities, rather than funding school-based health clinics in order to best address the health of students.

The main take-away was that health funders need to greatly expand their notion of the types of investments that should be included in their grant portfolios.  Funding high-performing teachers, affordable housing, transportation, job training, education, food policy, urban planning, recreation, and so on, are all critical if we truly hope to achieve a healthy America.

Carrie Varoquiers is the president of the McKesson Foundation.

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