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Creating a New Way to Talk About Where Health Starts

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Vulnerable Populations (VP) Portfolio recognizes that our health is more often shaped by social factors, including education, access to safe neighborhoods, nutritious foods and adequate housing.

In wonky terms, these factors are called “social determinants of health.” But to truly connect with key audiences, VP needed to develop language that would resonate with stakeholders from all political affiliations who could advance the work of the programs in their communities and across the nation.

By framing the work of the Portfolio as “where health starts” versus “where health ends” and showing that it opened up “new paths to better health by addressing health where it starts – in our homes, jobs, schools and communities,” we were able to give VP and its grantees a new way to talk about their work. We then undertook an extensive research process to optimize our messages and ensure that they had broad appeal across the political spectrum.

Our learnings were presented at both the CDC and Grantmakers in Health conferences. We then developed a Messaging Guide that provides action-oriented best practices and recommended language for those working at the intersection of health and social factors, such as where we live, learn, work and play.

Key findings were shared in the largest webinar in RWJF’s history. Entitled, “A New Way to Talk about Social Determinants,” the event attracted more than 2,500 key stakeholders, including members of the CDC and local health departments. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed at the end of the event stated their intention to apply this learning to their own work.

Credits: Westen Strategies, Public Opinion Strategies, Olson Zaltman Associates, Ideas on Purpose