New Jersey leaders should pursue a broad range of policy options to expand opportunity so that everyone in the state—no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make—can live the healthiest life possible, according to the results of a new report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The Foundation developed the report, Building a Culture of Health: A Policy Roadmap to Help All New Jerseyans Live Their Healthiest Lives with analysts at the Center for State Health Policy and the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, both at Rutgers University.
Informed by extensive research and months of conversations with nearly 300 community residents, nonprofit and business leaders, and others from across the state, the report identifies 13 priorities for building a culture of health in New Jersey in three areas: healthy children and families, healthy communities, high-quality, equitable health and social service systems.
The report is very clear: If we truly want to improve health and well-being in our state, we must make sure that opportunity is there for everyone.
-Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The recommendations span multiple sectors, including education, housing, nutrition, income, and health care, with a particular focus on health equity, or the principle that everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, regardless of race, place, gender, income or any other factor. Recommendations include providing high-quality early education for all three- and four-year-olds; helping everyone fully benefit from the recently expanded paid family leave benefit; creating and preserving affordable homes; and integrating mental health, addiction, and physical health services for Medicaid enrollees. Each recommendation addresses pressing needs, advances health equity and is supported by evidence.
“The report is very clear: If we truly want to improve health and well-being in our state, we must make sure that opportunity is there for everyone. This is what we mean by health equity,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in a statement. “Everyone should have access to the building blocks of good health and well-being: from good jobs with fair pay; to safe, affordable housing; a good education; and a high-quality health care system that meets its patients’ needs and is invested in keeping people healthy,” concluded Besser.
The Foundation is exploring ways to work to help make these recommendations a reality.
“The priorities in this report were identified as the real challenges to being healthy that New Jerseyans face each day, and the policies are supported by the best available evidence,” said Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy. “These are not just pie-in-the-sky ideas — they have been vetted to ensure there are ways to build support for and implement them.”
The report notes that nearly 6,400 deaths a year in New Jersey could be avoided if every resident has “a fair and just opportunity to live our healthiest life.”
Examples of the wide and, in some cases, growing health gaps New Jersey faces include: in Cumberland County, 44 percent of premature deaths could be avoided if residents had the same opportunities as those in healthier counties; average life expectancy in Trenton is 73 years, but is 87 only 13 miles away in Princeton; and statewide, babies born into black families are twice as likely to die before his or her first birthday than those born into white families. The policy options outlined in the report are aimed at eliminating inequitable gaps like these by addressing the factors that shape health.
The full report is available here.