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Overcoming Obstacles to Health: Report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the Commission to Build a Healthier America

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Despite what many believe, a person's health is not only a product of good medical care and genes. In fact, in many cases, these may only be small pieces of a much larger puzzle.

Social and economic factors are keeping some Americans from being as healthy as they should be. Based on work conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), this report outlines in stark detail how a person's health and the likelihood of becoming sick and dying prematurely are greatly influenced by powerful social factors—such as levels of education, income and the quality of neighborhood environments.

This RWJF report describes the current health profile of Americans, looking specifically at how education, income, race and ethnicity play a role in Americans' health. This report:

* Examines the roles of personal and societal responsibilities for health within the contexts in which people live, work and learn—which influence both the choices people have and their ability to make healthy choices.
* Reviews evidence of the lasting impact that physical and social environments have on a child's health and on his or her chances of becoming a healthy adult.
* Reveals new national evidence of differences in health across income and education groups, and how they relate to differences in health by race or ethnicity.
* Provides new evidence of the economic and human costs of differences in health, including the life stories of three American families who are trying to make healthy choices but face major obstacles.
* Offers a framework for finding solutions by applying current knowledge about the underlying causes of social disparities in health.