Making the business case for public health to encourage multi-sector collaboration

blogimage_HealthBusinessIn 2001, the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville found that 80 percent of residents were either obese or overweight, one in three was diabetic, and 70 percent had no healthcare coverage. The university soon formed a Community Advisory Board to work across sectors to advance a host of initiatives designed to improve public health in the community. Local clinician (and soon thereafter City Council Commissioner) Rose Zavaletta Gowen helped lead the charge, developing strategies for engaging each sector in public health on its own terms. Learning to speak about health in economic, educational, and environmental terms was critical, she told us when being interviewed for a case study: “For cross-sector collaboration you might need to talk in terms that you’re not necessarily familiar with, but you have to do your research in order to find those connections to other areas and harness those partners,” she said. “That is how we were able to make our projects work with very little funding and no line item in the city budget for what we were doing.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of public health powerhouse Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recently addressed making the case to business for public health as part of LinkedIn’s #BigIdeas2016 series, in which “professionals predict the ideas and trends that will shape 2016.”

The business case is “not a hard connection to make,” she writes, with U.S. employers spending nearly $400 billion a year insuring their workforce, with as much as 50 percent of profits eaten up by health care costs in many companies. To boot, U.S. businesses lose more than $225 billion because of sick and absent workers each year. A recently released report from The Vitality Institute, which reveals that industries with unhealthy workers are likely to be located in counties with unhealthy populations, is “yet another proof point that community health is critical to the health of the workforce — and the health of the economy,” Lavizzo-Mourey writes. She points to organizations that are helping make the business case for public health, such as the Health Enhancement Research Organization, which offers tools, case studies, and other resources to businesses.

RWJF is well known for its commitment to advancing multi-sector approaches to improving public health. Lavizzo-Mourey argues that corporations are headed in the right direction by offering wellness programs for their employees but that it’s now time to “invest in wellness beyond the corporate walls.” Here are a few of the initiatives she mentions that have a cross-sector focus:

Public health represents an area where the potential for cross-sector collaboration is high, with government, business, academic, and non-profit partners alike sharing the benefits of improved health outcomes for community members. For more on cross-sector collaboration and public health, check out these resources:

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