case study

Creating a Seismic Shift in How We Approach Health

A young kid using a spade in a raised bed garden.

The Challenge

While medical researchers pore over the human genetic code for clues to well-being, social researchers increasingly insist that your ZIP code will tell a far more accurate story about your likely health outcomes. There are vast differences in health for communities located just a few miles apart, where lifespans differ because of factors such as pollution, unsafe housing, crime rates and the availability of healthy food.

Our Approach

The RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America was first created in 2008 and issued 10 recommendations in 2009 for improving the health of all Americans and reducing health disparities. The Commission reconvened in 2013 to build on its earlier work and identify actions that should be taken going forward. Its new recommendations, contained in the report Time to Act: Investing in the Health of Our Children and Communities, called for a “seismic shift” in how we as a nation approach health.

Since 2008, Burness has provided communications support for the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America, developing and executing a comprehensive communications strategy in support of its recommendations. We have worked with the Commission to bring its focus areas to life through videos, stories and photography, have developed data and materials for publication, and have organized and promoted all of their events—ranging from commissioner site visits around the country to producing a live event at the Newseum with more than 1,500 online viewers.

Results and Impact

Momentum behind the Commission’s recommendations has continued to grow and spread to every corner of the country, from policy leaders in Washington, DC, to community leaders in Washington state. Burness has shared the recommendations with key audiences and policymakers at all levels of government. The outcomes of the Commission’s work have become part of mainstream health policy discussions due, in part, to significant media coverage. Respected peer-reviewed journals, such as JAMA, Health Affairs and Academic Medicine, have cited the Commission’s recommendations in support of investments in early childhood and affordable housing programs to improve health.


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