Issue 21 • February 2014

Clinton Health Matters Initiative

As a 904Fitness representative, I attended a community gathering on December 18, put on by the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI). CHMI is one of the Clinton Foundation’s initiatives dedicated to reducing the prevalence of preventable health outcomes, closing health disparity gaps, and increasing access to healthy environments (be it through healthcare, nutrition and physical fitness).

The convening aimed to develop partnerships and create a blueprint for improving our state of health in areas such as physical activity, healthy eating, substance abuse, and disease prevention. Notable speakers were Florida’s Surgeon General, John Armstrong, Mayor Brown’s Special Assistant, Mia Jones, and Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s President, Daniel Davis.

Depending on what neighborhood you live, you might be wondering why a philanthropic arm of the Clinton Foundation has installed headquarters in Jacksonville. This might be in part the answer – we don’t look out for our neighbor, so someone’s stepping in. The truth about our community is that we haven’t properly addressed health inequalities in our closely-knit 5 county region. And local preventable health issues have triggered action from the wider philanthropy world.

The CHMI event was a strategic planning session with a broad goal in mind – how can we affect change in the health inequity in Northeast Florida? According to Dr. Armstrong, our number 1 public health threat is the challenge of weight. 6 out of 10 of our graduating high school students are obese.

The CHMI is a nationally recognized agent for change. While their networks are complex, their mission is simple – create partnerships that deliver sustainable solutions for health. When introducing CHMI’s focus, regional director, Ashley Smith Juarez, stated, “CHMI seeks to improve health and wellbeing by activating individuals, communities and organizations to make meaningful contributions to the health of others.”

Despite grim statistics, there was no setback in morale. If anything, the community seems poised to make innovative contributions.

Innovation is something that Ashley Smith Juarez takes personally. After CHMI’s conference, I spoke with Ashley at San Marco’s Power Yoga studio. We talked about how she balances personal health goals and her work. Both require innovative planning. Ashley didn’t always practice yoga. After a soccer-related knee injury, she had to adapt to a different kind of workout to maintain fitness. “At first that transition was hard, I was used to running for exercise,” she shared. “Now, I find the same mental and physical benefit from yoga, without the pounding cardio.”

Ashley’s job requires the same innovative mindset. When the health of a community struggles, it’s time to look to new partners for answers. CHMI will exist in a tangible way in Northeast Florida for 5-7 years.  During that time Ashley and CHMI will leverage resources and solicit strategic partnerships to fill in gaps and encourage community contributions to reduce preventable chronic disease. When asked how athletes in Jacksonville can contribute to CHMI’s service, Ashley added, “Athletes and fitness professionals who are already acting on knowledge that leads to better health are assets in the region and will be encouraged to partner and have their expertise and habits permeate the community.”

More from my interview with Ashley Smith Juarez:

JG: In NE Florida, who is most affected by health environment and access to healthcare? 
ASJ: Education level and income tend to be the most prominent determinants of health outcomes, meaning that those with lower education and income levels often have poorer health.  So, place matters.  Within our 5 county region, we have the healthiest county in the state (according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s county Health rankings) as well as a poor health county, ranked 62nd of 67 counties.  CHMI works to give residents equal opportunity for good health through systemic change.

JG: Is CHMI’s focus on healthcare, or do you equally address exercise and nutrition in the community? 
ASJ: We want to create partnerships of purpose, across multiple sectors to solve pressing problems. In this instance, clinical care only determines about 20% of health outcomes.  The other 80% is determined by where individuals live, work and play.  CHMI focuses on social determinants of health, such as environment, physical activity, public safety and healthy eating in addition to health care access and quality.

JG: I can’t help but think that there is a place for everyone to contribute! 
ASJ: There is certainly place for everyone to contribute – there is no single cause for preventable health outcomes and no single solution.  We are a big tent initiative that welcomes all comers.  As we define our bold action steps in the coming months we will know more of the specific asks for individuals and organizations.  However, I can say confidently that it takes the public, private and nonprofit sectors working together to move the needle in health and wellness. 

JG: What are some of the ways Jacksonville athletes and fitness professionals can help the CHMI? 
ASJ: When the community Blueprint for Action is released in late winter/early spring, CHMI will be looking to partner with athletes and fitness professionals alike. So, stay tuned!

JoHanna Bienvenue

JoHanna Bienvenue

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