Take a Few Minutes to Change the Way You Think About Health

Changing the way we see, think, and understand health is the first step we can all take in leading a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and our community

I’m going to show you a series of images and videos and I want you to tell me what the first word is that comes to mind. Note: This is not a Rorschach test.

First, look at this set of images.

Now watch this.


… and maybe watch a few more seconds of this one.


If the first word that came to mind was anything other than health, I don’t blame you.

Too often, we miss the big picture—pun definitely intended—that health happens in all sorts of places outside the doctor’s office. First and foremost, it happens in the neighborhoods, schools and via access to prevention we either have or don’t have. Overlooking how our systems contribute to or detract from our health leads to all sorts of hidden biases that result in major costs to ourselves, our families, and our communities. We need to focus on our neighborhoods, schools, and access to care. The imagery you just saw is working to change this and lead us to confront these hidden biases that ultimately lead to poor health for us all.

Take the first set of images, for instance. These ads created by my workplace, The California Endowment, are now on billboards and bus shelters across California. When we see or hear about the undocumented, you may have thought and felt a lot of complicated things, sometimes out loud, sometimes quietly, sometimes a little of both. But whatever your thoughts or feelings, these ads sum it up in dollars: providing health care to otherwise uninsured individuals, including undocumented residents, can result in significant cost savings to the state and federal government. In fact, the Institute of Medicine, a component of the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that lack of health insurance in the U.S. costs between $65 and $130 billion per year, due to health impairments and years of productive life lost of all uninsured. 

The video after that was produced by students at Howard University in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, and points at another important health issue. Before they can even get started in life, too many young people of color face barriers on the way to adulthood. They are growing up in communities marked by interconnected barriers of bias, poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, underfunded schools and low-wage jobs that do not represent pathways to future health and success. When our boys and men of color are prevented from being healthy, safe, and ready to learn, it costs us big time. If you live in California, for instance, you can get involved in supporting this work here or on our Tumblr. If you live out of state, we encourage you to get involved with similar coalitions building a movement to support the health of boys and men of color in your community.

The next video is a trailer for a documentary written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not necessarily in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures. Further, women hold only three percent of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65 percent of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Changing the way we (literally) see, then think about, and finally understand health is the first step we can all take in leading a healthier existence for ourselves, and for the communities in which we exist.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

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