In June the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a new initiative: to move the entire country towards a “Culture of Health” (U.S. 1, June 4). The company has now hired Donald Schwarz, the health commissioner of Philadelphia, to serve as director of RWJF’s portfolio dedicated to catalyzing demand for healthy places and practices.

Schwarz, who has a Wharton MBA as well as an MD and masters of public health from Johns Hopkins, is also deputy mayor for health and opportunity for Philadelphia, where he has overseen the departments of Human Services, Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services, and the Office of Supportive Housing. Among the accomplishments that attracted RWJF’s attention was a 5 percent drop in childhood obesity during his tenure.

Reducing childhood obesity has been a goal of the foundation since 2007. Its new “Culture of Health” campaign, officially launched on June 24, has the broad goal of enabling people to lead healthy lives for generations to come. The foundation held a forum on June 20, where business, nonprofit, and government leaders discussed how their sectors could affect American culture when it comes to health.

“A culture of health affects every aspect of society,” said James Marks, senior vice president of RWJF and director of program portfolios there. “It means grandparents can stay in their own homes longer and play with their grandkids longer. It means our military can perform at its highest level. It means businesses can rely on the vitality of their workers to stay competitive. It gives local communities the best chance to thrive in every aspect.”

Schwarz’s purview — encouraging healthy places and practices — is an important part of the overall initiative. Schwarz’s experience tackling health problems in a large city ties in to this mission.

“Creating demand for healthier communities is an important step in making it easier for all of us to be healthier,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF. “We are thrilled that Dr. Schwarz, a leader in public health and a champion of the kind of comprehensive change it takes to make communities healthier for all members, will be joining our team.”

Said Marks: “He has a broad perspective on what it takes to create a culture of health. We saw that his experience in Philadelphia would be very valuable nationwide.”

Schwarz will report to Marks. “One of the things that’s crucial for the Culture of Health to succeed is that communities around the nation embrace that it is something to be working on,” Marks said. “That’s what we call our ‘catalyzing demand’ work. We can’t afford to fund every community, so how do we encourage them and help them to succeed?”

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