Op-Ed: This New Year, Let’s Resolve to Work Together to Build a Culture of Health

Bob Atkins | January 8, 2016 | Opinion
Making communities across the Garden State healthier means breaking down silos between sectors and industries

Bob Atkins, director of New Jersey Health Initiatives
With 2016 just beginning, people are starting to act on their New Year’s resolutions. Typically, resolutions tend to be personal and focused on undoing bad habits.

But in addition to any individual resolutions on the horizon, I propose that, together, we do something different for New Jersey this year.

This new year should be one in which we all make building a culture of health in New Jersey a priority. Organizations and individuals alike can resolve to work together to make communities across the Garden State healthier places to live. We can commit to ‘breaking down silos’ among sectors and industries, and pledge to incorporate health into decisions about everything from housing to transportation to city planning. Ultimately, we can resolve to do whatever we can to ensure that all New Jersey residents can live the healthiest lives possible.

When we at New Jersey Health Initiatives — a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — talk about working together to build a culture of health where health is a shared value, we’re talking about pulling in the voices of all elements of the community: local government officials, employers, youths, and others all working together to increase opportunities for people to make healthier choices where they live, learn, work, and play. That calls for collectively promoting wellness, rather than just finding better ways to treat illness.

Thankfully, we are already seeing partnerships of this kind around New Jersey. There are numerous private and public collaborations among the first 10 recipients of our “Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey – Communities Moving to Action” grants awarded last summer.

Take the City of Orange, where the school district is leading the charge with a community greenhouse for fresh vegetables. In Jersey City, the mayor’s office is setting the tone, with policies that promote health and wellness through community parks and farmers’ markets. In Camden, the YMCA was involved in adding bike lanes to busy streets. And in Atlantic City, we are working with a hospital-led coalition that provides lessons for their neighbors in cooking healthier food.

In all, more than 600 community groups were part of coalitions that applied for our NJHI Building Culture of Health in New Jersey – Communities Moving to Action grants in 2015. We expect many more to apply for our next round of funding in early 2016, and that means individuals and groups reaching out across sectors to make health a priority.

So at the start of this new year, I challenge organizations across the state to work together to form new partnerships, encourage new ideas, and take new steps toward a culture of health in New Jersey.

Because, after all, we’re all in this together.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a funder of NJ Spotlight.