New Initiative Builds Networks to Keep Children and Communities Healthy

Media Contact: Kathy Fackelmann,, 202-994-8354 and Sarah Baldauf,, 202-994-1277

WASHINGTON, DC (April 28, 2016) — An 8 year old in South Dallas lives in public housing with flooding problems and mold. He has frequent asthma attacks that result in missed school and frequent trips to the hospital. A ten year old in Ward 8 of the District of Columbia can’t go outside to play because of community violence. She has obesity and is at risk for diabetes and other serious health problems.

These are just a few examples of how a child’s environment, including the surrounding neighborhood, can affect their health and ability to lead successful lives. An innovative project launched by Milken Institute School of Public Health doctoral student Wendy Ellis and William Dietz, MD, PhD, Director and Chair of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, in partnership with Nemours aims to address the unhealthy environmental factors that affect not only individual children but entire communities.

The project, called Building Community Resilience (BCR), is now operating in five cities: Washington, DC; Dallas, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Cincinnati, Ohio and Wilmington, Delaware.  In addition to a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the project receives support from The Kresge Foundation and The Michael and Lori Milken Public Health Scholar Program.   

“Homelessness, community violence, unemployment, unsafe housing, pollution and other social determinants play a large part in health problems like obesity,” said Ellis, who serves as co-principal investigator on the initiative. “This first-of-a kind project plans to create integrated coalitions that can address some of these risk factors up front—a solution that could lead to healthier individuals and stronger communities.”

Nearly half of all American children experience poverty, community violence and/or household dysfunction and neglect, Ellis notes. Yet health care providers, including primary care physicians, often don’t recognize the connection between such experiences, chronic stress and the development of serious health disorders like obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and behavioral/learning disorders in children.

Doctors and the health care system may learn a child is homeless or going to school hungry but they may not know how to address such problems, which go well beyond the scope of traditional medical practice. The BCR collaborative, will—for the first time—set up integrated, coordinated networks that connect health care providers to social service and community organizations to address some of the root causes of childhood adversity. The result: a child’s family will receive medical advice or treatment from a clinician, and a referral to get the non-medical services they need for good health.

“Problems like high rates of obesity and diabetes disproportionately affect communities of color and are more prevalent in places where adversity – from violence to a lack of access to healthy food – is also high,” says Dietz, who also serves as co-principal investigator for BCR. “We will not be able to significantly improve health unless we address the adverse community environment.”

Building Community Resilience has launched in five cities but will focus efforts on neighborhoods struggling with multiple problems that can lead to very high rates of stress, adverse experiences for children and the development of serious diseases. For example, the Washington, DC site is a collaborative consisting of partners from Children’s National Health System, Georgetown University, the DC Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other partners. The group’s efforts will help children citywide but focuses on Wards 7 and 8, areas of the District with high rates of poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and other issues.

Read more about the Building Community Resilience initiative and Dr. Dietz's take on the significance of the approach for addressing obesity: Obesity, Zip Code and Adversity: New Action Toward a Resilient Community Solution



About Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University:
Established in July 1997 as the School of Public Health and Health Services, Milken Institute School of Public Health is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,900 students from 54 U.S. states and territories and more than 50 countries pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school also offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, and an online Executive Master of Health Administration, MHA@GW, which allow students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world.