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Changing Mindsets to Build Cultures of Health

December 15, 2014

The United States ranks #1 in the world in per capita health care spending, but ranks in the bottom half of wealthy nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, obesity, and diabetes. Low-income and ethnic minority Americans, who are rapidly becoming the nation’s majority populations, bear a disproportionate amount of this disease burden. Major obstacles to improving health for these groups include the lack of affordable health care, poor access to healthy food, and greater exposures to toxins, discrimination, and other stressors.

With a generous grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, SPARQ is exploring an additional and under-examined source of health disparities: the diversity of health mindsets among socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Health mindsets are people’s beliefs about what it means to be healthy, why some people are healthy and others are not, and how to regain health when it is lost. Research suggests that health mindsets vary by nation, region, race, ethnicity, social class, and gender.  When health care providers offer messages or suggest practices that are at odds with people’s usual health mindset, the messages or practices may seem irrelevant, impractical, or even immoral.

To bridge these cultural divides and reduce health disparities, SPARQ is:

   1) Assessing the health mindsets of the nation’s largest socioeconomic and ethnic groups;

   2) Examining how changing mindsets can improve health behaviors and outcomes, especially among low-income and minority Americans;

   3) Translating laboratory findings into interventions that improve diet, medical adherence, and clinical outcomes, especially among low-income and minority Americans; and

   4) Disseminating these interventions through the SPARQ Solutions Catalog, the academic and popular presses, and partnerships with nonprofit, business, and government organizations.