UW Health: UW Population Health Institute awarded $12 million to build culture of health

CONTACT: Susan Lampert Smith

(608) 890-5643


Madison, Wis. — All politics are local and, as the very successful County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program proves, so is interest in health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has announced it will continue to fund the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) to rank and provide guidance for improving the health of America’s counties from Florida to Alaska. The annual release of the Rankings typically generates coast-to-coast media coverage from USA Today all the way to rural weekly newspapers and radio stations. The Roadmaps project supports health improvement in counties and cities across the nation.

“The rankings continue to get people’s attention and drive action to improve health in communities,” says Dr. Bridget Catlin, of the UWPHI. “We are very grateful for RWJF’s continuing support and collaboration as we continue to help communities build a Culture of Health.”

The Rankings began as a Wisconsin program in 2003, and RWJF expanded it to the national level in 2010. RWJF will support the Population Health Institute with $12 million over the next two years to continue compiling and sharing health data for nearly every county in every state and to expand activities that help communities on the road to better health. The UWPHI team is led by Catlin and co-director Dr. Julie Willems Van Dijk.

Catlin says that once counties learn how they rank compared to the rest of their state, they have access to the Roadmaps to Health Action Center that provides tools and guidance for how to improve local health. As part of the new grant, the CHR&R program will expand its group of community coaches from four to 10. For every community, the decision about how to improve health is a local one.

For example, people in Mason County, Washington looked at their rankings and recognized the important relationship between education and health– finding that while children were graduating from high school at acceptable rates few of them were going on to college. They began a college readiness program for children starting in fourth grade, in an attempt to change the culture.

In addition to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, the UWPHI team works closely with RWJF to select winners of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize. RWJF has awarded a total of 12 prizes–six for both 2013 and 2014. Moving forward, RWJF will award prizes honoring up to 10 communities each year for their efforts to improve health. Manistique, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula was an inaugural prizewinner in 2013. The city has worked together with the neighboring Sault tribe to build more sidewalks to encourage walking, start a farmers market, and save jobs by keeping a local paper mill in business.