Culture of Health Program  


About the Program

Individual health is shaped by many economic and social factors such as income, education, access to high-quality health care, geography, and race and ethnicity. Uneven access to conditions that are needed for good health across the United States has been well documented, as have the poor effects on health that result — not only for individuals but also for their families and society. The National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundationis a multiyear collaborative effort to identify strategies to create and sustain conditions that support equitable good health for everyone in America. Since launching, the program released a consensus study on how communities can promote health equity in their local settings, launched three additional consensus studies, held a nationwide community art project and an art project inspired by young leaders, developed a community documentary series, traveled the country to learn how communities are promoting health equity on the ground, and created a model for communities to develop targeted strategies to promote health equity locally. Additional public workshops, activities, and tools are forthcoming. 

Disproportionate outcomes for people of color related to COVID-19 most recently illuminate the structural barriers to good health faced by our nation’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. The realities of systemic bias and structural racism that give rise to inequities have health consequences for individuals and communities across the United States and on the well-being of our society.

The Culture of Health Program is committed to working to bring about the transformation necessary to dismantle structural racism and ultimately achieve health equity for all. As COVID-19 commands the attention of our nation, we face an extraordinary opportunity to advance health equity, and the Culture of Health Program has therefore compiled a list of resources to support the health and well-being of those disproportionately impacted during the crises faced now by our nation and beyond.

View Health Equity Resources During COVID-19 >> 



Integrating Social Care into the Delivery of Health Care: Moving Upstream to Improve the Nation’s Health

A Report from the National Academies 


Integrating Social Care into the Delivery of Health Care: Moving Upstream to Improve the Nation’s Health, the fourth in a series of consensus reports from the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program, is now available as a free PDF download

The report identifies and assesses current and emerging approaches and recommends ways to expand and optimize social care in the health care setting.


Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity

A Report from the National Academies 


Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity, the third in a series of consensus reports from the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program, is now available as a free PDF download

The report outlines steps needed to move children who are at risk for negative outcomes toward positive health trajectories and reduce health disparities.


The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth

A Report from the National Academies 


The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth, the second in a series of consensus reports from the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program, is now available as a free PDF download.

The report finds ample evidence that changes in brain structure and connectivity that happen in adolescence present young people with unique opportunities for positive, life-shaping development, and for recovery from past adversity.

The report provides multiple recommendations for policy and practice that capitalize on these developmental opportunities and that address inequities – such as in health care and education – that undermine the well-being of many adolescents and leave them less able to take advantage of the promise offered by this stage of life. 


The Health Equity Hub includes additional report resources including sector briefs and an interactive conceptual model of the social determinants of health. Click above to visit the health equity hub.

Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity

A Report from the National Academies 

Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity is the first in a series of consensus reports to emerge from the National Academy of Medicine’s Culture of Health Program.

Health equity is the state in which everyone has the opportunity to attain full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or any other socially defined circumstance. This report finds that system-level changes are needed to reduce poverty, eliminate structural racism, improve income equality, increase educational opportunity, and fix the laws and policies that perpetuate structural inequities. All actors in society—residents and community-based organizations, in partnership with businesses, state and local government, anchor and faith-based institutions—have the power to change the narrative and help promote health equity.

This report also highlights promising solutions to help create equal opportunity for health in communities, which is the foundation for health equity.


Key Messages from the Report

Health equity is crucial. Health equity is fundamental to the idea of living a good life and building a vibrant society because of its practical, economic, and civic implications. Promoting health equity could afford considerable economic, national security, social, and other benefits. Yet recent research demonstrates that worsening social, economic, and environmental factors are affecting the public’s health in serious ways that compromise opportunity for all.

Health inequity is costly. Beyond significant costs in direct medical care expenditures, health inequity has consequences for the U.S. economy, national security, business viability, and public finances, considering the impact of poor health on one’s ability to participate in the workforce, military service, or society. Addressing health inequities is a critical need that requires this issue to be among our nation’s foremost priorities.

Learn more about the root causes of health inequities here.


Young Leaders Visualize Health Equity


How do the social determinants of health shape your life and the lives of your family and community? How would you make sure your friends, family, and community all have the same chance to be healthy, safe, and happy?

The National Academy of Medicine called on young leaders, ages 5-26, to use art to explore how the social determinants of health play a role in shaping their lives and their communities, and what it might look and feel like to one day live in a world where everyone has the same chance to be healthy, safe, and happy. We received over 175 submissions.

The voices of young leaders across the country are vital to the ongoing conversation about health equity and the future of our world. 

Visualize Health Equity


The National Academy of Medicine called on artists from across the nation to illustrate what health equity looks, sounds, and feels like to them. We received over 100 art submissions, including paintings, drawings, poetry, photos, videos, spoken word, and more. 

By sharing insights directly from people in diverse communities around the United States, the goal of this community art project is to get more people thinking and talking about health equity and the social determinants of health. It is our hope that through a creative lens, we can better understand what people across the country see as the most important health challenges and opportunities facing their communities.

The pieces found within offer moving insights into how individuals and communities view and prioritize health and demonstrate how health is an essential building block to a thriving community and nation. 

The Innocence of Adolescence | Gabriella Collins | White Plains, New York

Picture of Health | John Colavito | New York, NY


Community-Driven Health Equity Action Plans

Develop a targeted strategy to advance health equity locally


The National Academy of Medicine created and piloted a model for developing Community-Driven Health Equity Action Plans with diverse communities across the United States. The model offers insights to groups looking to strategize how to reduce health inequities locally.

The model provides a framework to develop a plan to advance health equity at the community level in seven steps: 1) vision and goals, 2) community context, 3) research grounding, 4) strategies and tactics, 5) stakeholders, 6) timeline, and 7) sustainability. 

The following pilot communities used the model to develop plans to address a priority of their communities:

  • Gorge Health Equity Collaborative in the Columbia Gorge region of Oregon and Washington

  • Magnolia Community Initiative in Los Angeles, California

  • United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County in San Antonio, Texas

  • WE ACT for Environmental Justice in Harlem, New York

  • Williamson Health and Wellness Center in Williamson, West Virginia

These pilot communities have agreed to share their Community-Driven Health Equity Action Plans as detailed examples for other communities or organizations interested in creating or sustaining plans to advance health equity.

We hope communities and organizations ultimately use the model and Community-Driven Health Equity Action Plans to support equitable good health among local residents across the country. 


Community Documentaries

Communities driving health equity


We are proud to present the stories of these three diverse communities that face complex, pervasive challenges but are all making progress in advancing health equity.

While every community must develop an approach suited to its own unique needs, our hope is that in sharing these stories, communities facing similar challenges might be inspired and informed to build solutions that are right for them.

People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo)

Residents of West Buffalo, NY inhabit some of the oldest houses in the nation. Many live with lead, asbestos, and mold every day. PUSH Buffalo is helping them take their health and their homes back into their own hands.

Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), now Faith in Indiana

IndyCAN is reminding every member of their community that they have power to fight health inequity. From listening campaigns to research and rallies, IndyCAN organizes people for a purpose.

Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services

Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services serves over 10,000 community members each year and works to foster physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health for everyone. A healthier Kalihi Valley, envisioned by the community leaders who founded KKV over 40 years ago, is an inclusive community in which neighbors help to heal neighbors, and people see themselves as part of a larger whole, connected to each other, to their culture, and to their shared land.


Community Health Heroes

How individuals and groups are pursuing health and health equity across the nation


Inspired by the 2017 National Academies report Communities in Action, this series highlights individuals or groups who are working to advance health and health equity in communities across the nation. The series features preventive strategies and programs that are conceived and implemented at the local level and focus on a range of factors that contribute to health, like education, employment, health systems and services, housing, income and wealth, the physical environment, public safety, the social environment, and transportation. Interviewees describe challenges, success stories, and lessons about what has worked for their organizations and communities. The purpose of the series is to share information, support networking, and spark new ideas.

Photo cred: Archie’s Acres

Photo cred: DC Central Kitchen

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