Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the first woman and the first African American to lead the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is retiring as soon as a successor can be found. Lavizzo-Mourey has served as president and CEO of the $10 billion private foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to health, since 2003. “Risa’s commitment to improving the health of this nation during her tenure as CEO is simply unparalleled, and she has led this Foundation with an extraordinary sense of purpose and passion,” said RWJF board chair Roger Fine. “It is difficult to see her leave but we are fortunate that she will remain at the helm until a successor is in place.”
RWJF has hired Korn Ferry, a headhunting firm based in Carnegie Center, to find a replacement.
In 2007 Lavizzo-Mourey began an initiative aimed at reversing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. The campaign included research, communications, and public policy lobbying. In 2015 the RWJF committed $500 million to sustain the movement for another decade.
The foundation’s childhood obesity initiative has attracted many high-profile allies, including First Lady Michelle Obama, who adopted the cause through her Let’s Move! campaign. The foundation continues to work with schools, industry, cities and local communities, policymakers, and organizations seeking to promote exercise and good diets for children.
The group can point to a leveling off of childhood obesity rates nationwide as evidence of the success of the campaign. The obesity rate among all children ages 2 to 19 has stopped rising and has held steady at 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the nation’s youngest children, ages 2 to 5, the obesity rate has decreased from 13.9 percent in 2003-’04 to 8.9 percent in 2011-’14.
Lavizzo-Mourey also promoted individuals accessing healthcare through relevant research, consumer outreach, and technical assistance to states implementing the Affordable Care Act.
The foundation also helped develop strategies to simplify enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), engaging community leaders, schools, businesses, churches, and civic groups across the nation in the initiative.
In 2008 RWJF created the Commission to Build a Healthier America, a national independent, non-partisan body of leaders who examined what factors outside of the medical care arena influence health. After collecting data and holding listening sessions across the nation, the commission issued a report in 2009 titled “Beyond Health Care.” The report underscored findings that good health depends more on where people live, learn, work, and play rather than medical care alone, and issued a list of national recommendations to improve health at the local, state, and federal levels.
The commission’s findings informed Lavizzo-Mourey’s decision to move the foundation toward its current vision of building a “Culture of Health” in America — emphasizing that well-being is the sum of many parts including making health a shared value within every sector of society; creating healthier, more equitable communities; strengthening the integration of health systems and services; and promoting children’s health.
“It has been a true pleasure and honor to work alongside a visionary like Risa,” said. James Marks, executive vice president of RWJF. “She will be greatly missed but will leave us a tremendous legacy. Building a Culture of Health is a vision that will energize our work for years to come.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, College Road East, Box 2316, Princeton 08543. 609-452-8701. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey MD, president and CEO. www.rwjf.org.