July 2, 2014

What Does a Culture of Health Mean?

Elizabeth H. Bradley, Ph.D., faculty director, Yale Global Health Leadership Institute 
Last week, the Vitality Institute released a report offering five recommendations to build a culture of health that motivates Americans to make healthful choices – including strengthening leadership through networks, focusing on the health of the workforce and reframing the word prevention. The report aims to establish health as state of complete mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
I was delighted to participate on the panel at this event that raised thought provoking ideas about leadership for health. How should Americans be thinking about health leadership? Does it start at home, in schools, in the community, or in the workplace? By the time we enter the medical care system, health habits are fairly well established and difficult to shift. Hospitals and doctors influence only a portion of our health; the real drivers of health – how we eat, play, work, and live – have developed long before we ever walk into a medical facility.    
To make headway on improving health care in the United States, we must endorse the broad view of health as a core value of society. We must engage diverse groups of people, companies, organizations, and communities. Expanding the circle of partnerships, beyond the typical players in health care, such as pharmaceutical companies and insurers, may bring a more holistic approach to the culture of health.  For example, partnerships with technology companies that focus on innovations for our future, as well as urban design companies, may be more important to ensure that health issues are addressed at all levels.  Such partners provide leadership focused on innovations that lead people to healthy and sustainable lives through perspectives on health. 
We also need to think differently about what prevention means and when it starts.  We can do this by looking upstream with our prevention efforts –urban planning, early childhood education, safe housing – methods that happen even before some medical preventions.    
This report was inspiring and I think the Vitality Institute has a real opportunity to grow a network that can change the culture of health.  I’m in.  

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