Making Menstruation Matter

Written and submitted by Linda B. Rosenthal

Manhattan Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal is a leading advocate on gender and menstrual equity issues in New York. Linda has passed more than 75 laws to improve the lives of all New York State residents, including a ban on the “tampon tax,” which eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products statewide. Linda spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch her talk here.

Since I gave my TEDMED talk in November 2017, the fight for menstrual equity has taken center stage. As of today, 14 states do not tax menstrual hygiene products, and 24 others have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax altogether. The term menstrual equity has entered the common vernacular and become part of our collective consciousness.

I have spoken with period rights advocates from across the country and right here in New York who are fighting to ensure menstrual equity takes its place as a critical component of women’s health and want to model their efforts after our successful push in New York. I spoke at the first-ever PeriodCon, which was an electric gathering of activists who are making menstruation matter in every corner of the world.

And, it’s working. Lawmakers across the country are looking at menstrual health and equity issues for the very first time.

A number of states are now working on legislation, like mine in New York, to provide menstrual hygiene products free in schools and correctional facilities. Federal legislation would ensure that these products qualify for flexible spending accounts, among other things. Medical professionals are finally recognizing that dysmenorrhea is serious and can be debilitating for some, and there are efforts to consider new, more effective treatments for it. And, there is a move to make menstrual hygiene product ingredients available to consumers and to test product safety to better understand the health impacts of long-term use.

New York State included my bill to provide free menstrual products to students in secondary schools statewide in the proposed Executive budget, which means that we are a few short weeks from every student statewide having free universal access to menstrual hygiene products in school. This is a game changer for any young person who has ever felt ashamed because they did not have tampons when they needed one or because they could not afford them.

After my bill passed the New York State Assembly, New York’s correctional facilities voluntarily implemented a program to provide free menstrual hygiene products to people who are incarcerated. Once we pass my legislation into law, the program will remain in place permanently and preserve the health and dignity of menstruating individuals in correctional facilities for generations to come.

From 40,000 feet, it looks like we are on the precipice of a sea change here, and that’s because we are. People have finally begun to recognize that guaranteeing menstrual equity is a distinct and critically important component in the fight to protect women’s health.

Together, so many of us have worked to demystify and destigmatize menstruation, and now, we feel duty-bound to discuss menstruation and related medical and social issues to help make the change and achieve the equality that has for so long eluded us.

Even with our remarkable progress, it is not enough. Let’s be honest: it won’t be enough until tampons are treated like toilet paper.

Since giving my TEDMED talk, I have eagerly devoured every resource I could on this issue. And yet, I keep coming back to one: a 2013 TedX talk given by Nancy Kramer, where she argued that we must ‘Free the Tampon.’ She was right in 2013, and she’s still right today, five years later.

No one walks around with a personal roll of toilet paper for public emergencies or expects to put a quarter into a machine in exchange for a square of toilet paper in a public restroom. Tampons and sanitary napkins are not different than toilet paper. What is different, however, is the way we think about them and therefore, treat them.

Upon reflection, I realize now why it was so important that people heard me say blood and gush on the floor of the New York State Assembly. It’s the same reason it is so important that we each discuss our periods, freely and proudly. Every time someone mentions a period, we help break down the stigmas that have shrouded this natural function of our bodies and our health in mystery for years.

And because incremental change frustrates me, I have introduced legislation, the TAMP (Total Access to Menstrual Products) Act to require that every restroom in the State of New York – from fast food restaurants to colleges, to government facilities and office buildings – make menstrual hygiene products available in the same way they do toilet paper.

It is a matter of simple justice. At the foundation of movement toward menstrual equity is the recognition that menstrual hygiene products are necessities that have been singled out for historically biased treatment as a result of stigma and misunderstanding about the biological functions of half the population. This begins to end today, with the TAMP Act.

Seeking Artists In The TEDMED Community

This week, our Editorial Advisory Board kicks off a series of meetings designed to curate the topics, themes, ideas and stories that will shape the TEDMED 2018 program. As always, we will balance our review of the medical and scientific landscape with strong consideration of performance, visual arts, and narrative. We believe that scientific and artistic exploration ultimately share the same goal, which is to explain and communicate difficult concepts, and to create a deeper and more fuller understanding of ourselves, and the world in which we live. For this reason, art and design are an important part of the TEDMED program– to us, there is no clear division between science and art.

We’ve had some amazing artists who beautifully illustrate this connection between medicine and art from the TEDMED stage. For example, last year, cellist Zoë Keating shared how the emotions involved with her husband’s battle with cancer transformed her music, and how the artistic process has helped her heal and communicate her feelings more completely than she ever could through words. Visual artist Jennifer Chenoweth brought her XYZ Atlas project to TEDMED, and demonstrated how visualizing experiences and emotions can actually help communities become stronger and healthier.

A wide range of artistic talents join us each year, such as pianist Richard Kogan, painter Ted Meyer, fashion designer Kristin Neidlinger, art curator Christine McNabb, documentarian Holly Morris, improv performers Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, chef John La Puma, photographer Kitra Cahana, musician Gerardo Contino, and many more. And more broadly, storytelling itself is an artform. Every speaker from all backgrounds carefully craft their talk to share a unique gift with the TEDMED community. Every talk is therefore a piece of art the speaker shares with the audience.

And quite literally, our speakers themselves become pieces of art, because an important part of our event design each year is to work with artists who create portraits of our speakers. From widely acclaimed figures like Hanoch Piven and Victor Juhasz, to a collaborative project created by several RISD art students, to the fantastic work of Gabriel Gutierrez and Lauren Hess who were chosen from our community, we’ve been lucky to work with amazing talent. These artists are invited to TEDMED and become an important part of our Delegation. Find out more about their beautiful work here.

Again this year, we’re excited to begin a search for the artist or artists who will help us bring this year’s speaker portraits to life. As part of our search, we’re officially accepting artist nominations and applications for TEDMED 2018.

Just as every year, our chosen artist or artists will join our community for 3 days in Palm Springs, CA at the La Quinta Resort and Club, November 14-16 for TEDMED 2018 (travel and accommodations covered by TEDMED).  If you are interested, or know someone who might be, read on!

This call is open to amateur and professional artists, and all art mediums will be considered. While not required, the artist would ideally have a close tie to health and medicine. This could take form in the following ways:

  • Experience in the medical community
  • Experience working with patients
  • A personal story connecting the artist to health and medicine

The artist will need to produce roughly 50 portraits over the course of the next few months. Illustrations will be based on reference photos that will be provided. Final portraits will need to be delivered as high res digital files based on our specifications.

The work will take place between March – July 2017.

To apply (or nominate an artist), please send an email to Be sure to include a work sample, a brief bio, any relevant links, and details about the best way to get in touch (email, cell, etc.). If the artist is a good fit, someone from our team will reach out.

Application deadline: Midnight, March 12, 2018.

Panther Senses: How Racial Literacy Makes It Possible for Our Children to Keep Belonging Without Having to Fit In

Written and submitted by Howard Stevenson, Ph.D..

Howard C. Stevenson is Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative (REC). Howard is also the Constance Clayton Professor of Urban Education and Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Howard spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

Imagine someone walking up to your 12 year old while they are styling down the street, playing in the park, or simply listening to music. To you, these are the daily experiences of childhood. To your child, these are behaviors of belonging in the world. But what if the person who walked up to your 12 year old saw your child as a thug, assumed the toy they were holding was a weapon, misjudged their cultural styling as a threatening move and assaulted their bodies, history, knowledge, identity, beauty, freedom, and genius in self-defense?

For parents of Black and Brown children, the stress of wondering if our children will come home safely is debilitating. We cannot always trust authority figures to act humanely toward our children. Our worry about their safety disrupts the ground we walk on. Moreover, not all parents have to fear that their children will be racially profiled. Racial threat research suggests that adults over-react to the ways boys and girls of color speak their minds and physically move. When racially threatened, adults perceive children and adults of color as older, larger, and closer than they really are. When authority figures over-react, they protect themselves first and too often make the most punitive “in-the-moment” decision toward youth of color.

What is the emotional cost for youth and adults of being exposed to repeated disrespectful attitudes, social interactions, and false accusations? The more Black and Brown youth experience subtle or blatant racial rejection from society and within schools, the less they feel safe, trust others, get peaceful sleep, or perform well at school.

Some parents try to teach their children to fit in and assimilate so as to not appear different and garner any negative attention. Be pretty. Some prepare them explicitly for potential racial hatred. Be on guard. Others still prefer to not “racially burden” their children, hoping they won’t face trouble. Be invisible. Unfortunately, a lot of “don’ts” lurk close by, like “don’t be angry” or “loud” or “too Black.” What is a parent left to do? Teaching racial literacy—or the ability to read, recast, and resolve racially stressful situations—can be one answer.

It’s like panther senses. Did you know that panthers have sensitive whiskers that help them navigate darkness? What if young people of color could learn to trust their panther senses before, during, and after these situations and learn to “be you?”

Racial literacy involves teaching youth of color to appreciate their cultural genius and discern racial support and rejection (read), reduce the stress of that rejection (recast) so they can make healthy decisions that benefit their well-being (resolve). Neither a cure for discrimination or a last ditch survival strategy, racial literacy skills can be a healing response to daily racial microaggressions.

Our research at the Racial Empowerment Collaborative shows that the more parents or children report socialization about negotiating racial politics, the better they report improvements in self-esteem, anger management, depression, and academic achievement. However, not all the racial conversations parents report yield positive results. The more children reported their parents socialized them to fit into mainstream society, the higher their depression scores. Why? We think it’s because many of the environments our young people of color enter don’t appreciate their difference.

Howard and the REC team.

Racial literacy can also be applied to the school environment. When harassed at school, students of color struggle to see the benefits of trying to fit into hostile social networks for the sake of future social mobility. We believe racial literacy at school is more likely to lead to more positive health outcomes because it 1) affirms Black and Brown youth’s accurate discernment of societal hostility or support; 2) reframes any racial rejection as the haters’ problem, not theirs; and 3) promotes them to embrace their genius and not question their potential. Once youth of color embrace their differences and the healing benefits of their culture, they develop confidence to engage rather than fight, flee, or freeze in the face of discrimination.

But without practice, none of these literacy skills become instinctual, like panther senses.

If “belonging” is the acceptance of my difference and competence, and “fitting in” is the dependence on other people’s acceptance of me, then why am I not questioning that acceptance if it’s rooted in inferiority? For many youth of color, “belonging” is to “fitting in” what “being myself” is to “pretending.”

Parents can’t always be there to protect their children from racial discrimination, and life offers no guarantees for our children. But we can equip them with the cultural tools to belong within whatever context they inhabit. Additionally, we can encourage them to choose to make healthy decisions around whether to accept or challenge other people’s perceptions of their difference and their potential. Be you.

Announcing the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board

Over the next several months, the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) will begin meeting to discuss the most important and timely topics in health and medicine—all in preparation for designing this year’s Stage Program. The EAB members play critical roles in our community, contributing their time, knowledge, and insights to ensure that each TEDMED event highlights the key issues and groundbreaking innovations related to health around the world.

This year’s EAB consists of 20 thought leaders representing backgrounds and organizations that intersect all areas of health and medicine, including including scientific research, medical journalism, philanthropy, clinical care, psychology and behavioral science, clinical care, infectious disease, health entrepreneurship and venture capital, neuroscience, and health policy. Their diverse experiences and areas of expertise inform the broad spectrum of ideas integral to shaping our multidisciplinary program and ensuring it is inclusive and cutting edge.

We’re honored to announce the 2018 TEDMED Editorial Advisory Board:

You can learn more about the EAB and their role on

Reflections, Hope, and Togetherness: Looking Ahead to 2018

As 2017 comes to a close, we at TEDMED are filled with both gratitude and reflection. This has been an exciting year in the world of health and medicine, with unprecedented advances in areas like gene editing and artificial intelligence, and groundbreaking research on diseases such as Zika and cancer. There have also been many challenges: opioid abuse and addiction continues to rise; funding for global health programs remains uncertain; and rates of loneliness and isolation are increasing and negatively impacting our health.

This last point feels particularly relevant during the holidays, when many of us take time off to celebrate and be with our friends and families. For those who feel alone, this can be an especially difficult time of year. In a survey of approximately 3,000 adults over the age of 45, AARP found that over one-third of respondents were lonely, due in part to a perceived lack of social support and a shrinking network of friends. This translates to roughly 42.6 million adults in the United States who suffer from chronic loneliness, which can be as significant a risk to mortality as commonly accepted factors like diabetes and hypertension.

By reaching out to and reconnecting with friends and family members this holiday season, you can improve your own health and that of your loved ones while also reducing loneliness. Studies compiled by Psychology Today show that strong social connectivity can strengthen our immune systems, increase self-esteem, and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Social connectivity can even reduce the risk of early death by up to 50%.

As our team prepares to unplug these next few weeks, we reached out to a few members of the extended TEDMED Community to learn more about their reflections from 2017, their hopes for 2018, and how they plan to connect with the important people in their lives this holiday season.

We asked: “When you reflect back on 2017, what do you see as some of the successes and challenges in health and medicine?”

Karen Hogan, TEDMED 2017 Hive Innovator

“Looking back on 2017, advances in healthcare technology and treatments are incredibly inspiring,” said Karen Hogan, 2017 Hive Innovator and Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Biorealize. “I was also excited to see not only advances in healthcare related to physical illness, but also a more broad discussion emerging on a holistic approach to treating emotional and mental wellness in the same light.”  

She continued, “A major challenge, and one that worries me, is what appears to be an ever increasing divide among those that can afford access to healthcare and those that cannot. I believe access to healthcare is a human right and I hope to see that mentality more broadly adopted in 2018.”

Access to health was also on the mind for Heidi Allen, a 2017 TEDMED Speaker and Associate Professor of Social Work at Columbia University who specializes in health insurance policy.

“[This year] brought a considerable amount of uncertainty related to the future of the Affordable Care Act. It seems that every other week there was a ‘repeal and replace’ proposal in Congress that appeared inevitable,” Heidi said. “I imagine this ambiguity was particularly difficult for patients in the midst of a health crisis. Concerns about losing their insurance mid-treatment and the consequences of having a pre-existing without the protections of the ACA must have occupied the minds of many Americans.”

Pediatric endocrinologist and 2017 TEDMED Speaker Ximena Lopez told us that following a year during which she often felt despair in the face of what she described as a lack of scientific and medical progress, “hearing the speakers at TEDMED 2017 gave me hope about humanity.”

Mark Tyndall, 2017 Speaker and the Director of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, said a major challenge in public health this year has been managing the overdose crisis.

“I have been involved with a number of prevention initiatives and speaking opportunities around this—including of course the TEDMED talk,” he said. “There is a real opportunity to change the whole way that we view drug use in Canada but it is discouraging at times to see how stigma and apathy make progress so difficult and cloud our common sense.”

We also asked “What do you hope for in health and medicine in 2018?”

“In 2018 I hope that we create efficiencies in how consumers and healthcare organizations can find out about the great work that many researchers and entrepreneurs are working on,” said Jo Schneier, 2017 Hive Innovator and CEO and Co-Founder of Cognotion. “There are so many breakthroughs happening but getting them into people’s hands is my dream for 2018.”

Heidi said, “I hope that 2018 will bring policy-makers from across the political spectrum to the same table. We are going to need tremendous creativity and courage from our leaders if we are going to reduce systemic health care costs without doing so on the backs of the poor or the sick.”

For Sophie Andrews, 2017 TEDMED Speaker and CEO of The Silver Line, the outlook is simple. “Winston Churchill famously said, ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,’” she said. “So I guess that means we shouldn’t lose sight of the simple stuff too, and those simple acts of kindness on a global scale will affect all of us and make the world a healthier and happier place to live in.

Finally, we asked: “As the new year approaches, what are your plans to connect with your loved ones, and with yourself?”

Sophie said, “My plans are fairly simple—to see as many loved ones as I can and take the time to pick the phone up to people I might have neglected. The bigger the New Year resolution is, the more likely you fail, so I’m going to do better at keeping in touch with people in 2018 and cherish time with special people more.”

She continued, “I’ll ask myself each week ‘how many conversations have I had this week that are not related to work?’ because it’s a healthy check to make sure I’m not becoming a work bore, and that it hasn’t taken over!”

Ximena emphasized the opportunity to use this time for teaching the value of togetherness. “I hope to be able to teach my son the importance of spending the holidays with family and your loved ones.”

Mark Tyndall, TEDMED 2017 Speaker

Mark said he plans to spend time unplugging and being active with his family. “Holidays are a great time to reflect and scheme about how to connect better with those you love. Family activities will be central to this in the new year—cross-country skiing and mountain biking are rather new family activities that involve fresh mountain air and no screens or keyboards.”

Finally, for Jo, it’s all about community.I live in a rare neighborhood in NYC where all the neighbors know each other. We are planning on bringing in the New Year with our community at one of our neighbor’s houses. It is something I am very grateful for!”

We hope you find these insights from our speakers as valuable and thought-provoking as we do. From all of us here at TEDMED, we hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with much joy and of course, meaningful connections. We look forward to reconnecting in the new year.

How Lessons From Abroad Are Uplifting Youth In the United States

By Jennifer Ng’andu, a senior program officer at RWJF. Read her full bio here. Reprinted with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.

Creative programs in Latin America are inspiring U.S. communities to pursue similar approaches that connect young adults to education and employment.

Like many high school graduates in Brazil, Caroline was eager to find a job. She desperately needed money to continue her studies and pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But two years after graduating, she was still unemployed. Caroline eventually managed to improve her job prospects in an unlikely way—through drawing, dance and breath work.

Intent on breaking free from a family history of women who weren’t able to get good jobs or finish high school, Caroline discovered a job training program run by Rede Cidadã (The Citizen Network). The non-profit organization connects youth to jobs and apprenticeships throughout Brazil, where the youth unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent.

At Rede Cidadã, Caroline joined other young people in exercises that used movement and art to help her better understand and channel her emotions while becoming a strong communicator. She learned mindfulness techniques to help manage stress and build productive relationships. While untraditional, these methods have proven effective at equipping young people across Brazil with essential life and work skills—Rede Cidadã has placed more than 60,000 youth into work since it was founded fifteen years ago. Upon completing the program, Caroline landed a job at AIC, a teleservice company in her hometown of Belo Horizonte.

Expanding Opportunities for Youth 

Caroline, 20 years old, participates in Rede Cidadã’s innovative program which incorporates movement and dance into their employment training methods.

Fresh and innovative approaches like the ones Rede Cidadã uses also hold promise for the one out of eight American youth (4.8 million) who are not in school or working—in other words, who are disconnected from life’s opportunities.

Disconnection can have dire health and economic repercussions not just for youth, but for entire communities. When youth are detached from opportunities—like the chance to advance in school, gain work experience, and build social connections—society at large loses out on their potential to strengthen the social and economic vibrancy of communities.

It’s not that there are no jobs for young people. Paradoxically, the United States is facing an impending labor force—but not work—shortage. It’s urgent that we tap into the potential of youth to ensure that every one of them can thrive and be at their most productive.

A Challenge Shared Around the World

The United States isn’t alone in this challenge. Globally, the problem is even worse with one third of the world’s 1.8 billion youth neither employed, nor in education or training. Around the world, countries are deploying creative strategies to connect young adults to jobs and education—putting them on a path to healthy and successful lives.

This is particularly true in Mexico, Colombia, St. Lucia and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, where one in four people are between the ages of 15 and 29. These countries are taking important steps to expand opportunities for their young people.

In fact, some of their best ideas and proven programs—like Rede Cidadã—are making their way into the United States.

Adapting Ideas From Abroad

In New Orleans, the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) is bringing elements of the highly successful Brazilian program stateside to help local at-risk youth prepare for work, develop life skills, and strengthen ties to family and community.

YEP is thinking hard about how best to adapt some of Rede Cidadã’s healing work, which helps to foster the social and emotional well-being of young people, for the United States. For instance, the Brazilians taking part in Rede Cidadã’s job trainings readily embrace one another, build trust, and share their personal traumas. In comparison, Americans tend to shy away from unlocking those histories and the feelings that might come with them. But YEP is excited about the potential to incorporate elements such as music and dance into its work readiness programs, which it thinks would resonate with the young New Orleans it serves.

YEP learned about Rede Cidadã through (Re)Connecting Youth, an initiative of the International Youth Foundation. (Re)Connecting Youth is scouring the globe, with a particular focus on Latin America, to find creative strategies for increasing youth connection that can help fill existing gaps in services and programs within the U.S.

Specifically, they are looking for programs that have one of four features:

  1. Youth as Assets. Ensure that youth voices and young leaders influence the offering and delivery of programs for youth.
  2. Social-Emotional Programming. Ensure that youth have the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to successfully navigate work and life.
  3. Creative Outreach & Retention Strategies. Ensure that programs recruit and engage young people where they live, learn, work, and play.
  4. Employer Engagement. Ensure that programs bridge the gap between skills young people are building and those employers are seeking.

(Re)Connecting Youth is unearthing fascinating programs, from places such as Mexico’s Juarez, often better known for its history of violence. And it’s helping local U.S. communities explore how they might bring these solutions home. Later this year, a coalition from Baltimore will travel to Tijuana, Mexico, to visit Fronteras Unidas Pro Salud, a group that offers work readiness training programs for youth, led by youth. An exchange between youth organizations in Santa Fe and Chile is also in the works.

To build a Culture of Health we need to provide the millions of youth in America who are not in school or work with opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives. And we need to find effective and innovative pathways forward for the youth of the future.

Looking abroad for inspiration and solutions can help us get there.

Want to learn more about how the Latin American experience can inform opportunities for youth in the United States? Watch our archived webinar “Connecting Youth” in our Reimagined in America: What Can the World Teach Us About Building a Culture of Health?

What If All Children Could Attend Preschool?

By Susan R. Mende and Tara Oakman, Senior Program Officers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Reprinted with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.

In Europe, rich and poor kids alike are enrolling in early care and preschool programs in large numbers. These accomplishments offer us insights for our collective efforts to strengthen early education in the U.S.

For the past 18 years, every 4-year-old in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a spot in preschool, for free. These kids are learning their letters, numbers, colors and shapes. They’re also developing arguably more important social and emotional tools—how to make friends, feel empathy, solve problems, manage conflict. These are the kind of building blocks children need to become thriving adults. Nearly 75 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in Oklahoma’s pre-K program. That’s one of the highest participation rates in the country. But if we look across the United States, we see that just 61 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are enrolled in pre-K, daycare or other formal early childhood education program.

Why? Of course, many parents stay home or have a friend, neighbor or relative take care of their kid. But a recent Harvard poll of parents with children under the age of five highlights the struggles families face in finding quality, affordable child care. Many parents reported having limited options and said that the cost of child care had caused financial problems. Low-income families were especially likely to report difficulty accessing care.

What’s Happening in Other Countries?
Unlike the U.S., many European countries have nearly universal participation in preschool—rates of 95 percent or higher. What’s more, these countries have high rates of participation even among low-income families. A recent scan of child care and early education in Europe, conducted by the American Institutes for Research with a grant from RWJF, identified several promising strategies that could increase participation in early childhood education in the United States, particularly among the most vulnerable.Some of the most innovative ideas the report spotlights:

● A continuous birth-to-school system: In Sweden, Family Centers provide prenatal and maternal health care, child health care, day care, preschool, and other social services in a single agency and location from when a child is born until they’re ready to enter school.

● Community and family engagement: In Belgium, early childhood education agencies use family supporters called “gezinsondersteuners”—paid staff members recruited from local communities who provide support and advice to new parents or to parents who recently immigrated into Belgium. A significant part of their work involves connecting those parents to other child and family services, including referrals to health care services, social workers, and employment agencies.

● Extra support for the most vulnerable: In DenmarkNorway, and the United Kingdom, low-income parents who don’t have traditional work schedules can receive subsidies to help them cover the costs of care outside of “core” hours (typically 9 a.m.–3 p.m.)

Similar strategies were behind the success of programs across the continent and underscore how we have much to learn from our neighbors overseas.

The European experience also strongly suggests that the best way to reach vulnerable families is to provide universal access to early care and education programs—where all children, no matter where they live or how much money their families earn, have the option to enroll in high quality and affordable child care.

Europe’s accomplishments offer us insights for our collective efforts to strengthen early education in the U.S.

Challenges Can Be Overcome
Every child—and every family—in the U.S. should be able to access high quality, affordable child care and preschool. And we need to make sure the people who have the toughest time accessing these services are not left behind.

Of course, it’s not going to be easy. But it wasn’t easy for European countries either. They faced resistance among teachers about losing their academic focus and becoming “child care providers,” and resistance among parents about early care and education becoming too “school-like” and academic for their younger children. They encountered parents whose cultural norms, lack of awareness and mistrust of government agencies kept them from enrolling their children in the formal programs that were available to them. They navigated a fragmented child care and early education system far removed from similar services for school-age kids. They worked hard to keep the costs of early child care and education services manageable. During the recession, which hit many European countries especially hard, they fought to maintain public and financial support for universal early child care and education.

And they overcame these challenges.

Our Children, Our Future
We’re encouraged that cities and states across the U.S. are embracing universal pre-K and taking steps to improve the child care facilities and preschools our children attend. But it’s time to accelerate these efforts. The repercussions of not doing so are already being felt by families across the country. And are hurting us as a nation.

One thing we can all agree on is that early childhood matters. The earlier we start to nurture children’s well-being, the better chance we have to put them on a path to success.

Read the report Connecting All Children to High Quality Early Care and Education to get started.

New Solutions to Old Health Problems

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We’ve all heard this famous quote, and you’ve probably heard it applied to a range of different situations. When it comes to health and medicine, it definitely rings true. In order to move past limits and find new solutions, we have to be willing to reassess the old way of doing something and be open to approaching problems from fresh, new angles. That’s exactly what these six TEDMED 2017 Speakers and Innovators are doing—they’re confronting tough problems in health and medicine with out-of-the-box thinking. They’ve embraced the fact that in order to get the health outcomes we want, we need to try something new.

When it comes to surgical training, the standard approach is “see one, do one, teach one.” After watching a procedure completed once, surgeons and surgeons-in-training are expected to be able to perform the procedure themselves and also be capable of teaching another surgeon how to do it. This is the way surgeons have been trained for generations. But Justin Barad, Co-founder of Osso VR, knew there had to be a better way. He and his team have developed a new surgical training platform that hopes to transform the way surgeons learn to operate. Using realistic virtual hands-on simulations, surgeons trained with Osso VR have the ability to rehearse and master procedures—rather than just watch them—before operating on patients. Additionally, the company’s highly portable VR training enables surgeons everywhere to have access to cutting-edge education. Osso VR not only intends to optimize patient outcomes by allowing surgeons more opportunity to practice hands-on, but also to close the gap in surgical training around the world.

When it comes to finding new ways to improve patient outcomes, there’s plenty of room for improvement across the board. In recent years, patient compliance has taken center stage, and most people have focused on the different strategies providers can use to get their patients to remember to take their pills. At Lyndra, CEO Amy Schulman sees the problem from a different perspective. Instead of working to change the patient, she and her team have set out to change the pill. Lyndra is revolutionizing the way in which we take our medications by turning the daily pill dose into a weekly or monthly dosage. With their ultra long-acting oral drug delivery platform, Lyndra is able to reduce the frequency of how often a medication must be taken, which helps the 50% of patients who fail to adhere to their prescription regimen to stay on track with their treatment.

Adherence is also a big issue when it comes to diabetes. From monitoring blood sugar to taking insulin, diabetic patients are forced to take on a huge responsibility in managing their health. However, Fractyl has set out to change the way we treat Type 2 diabetes patients. To start, they’ve shifted attention away from the pancreas, which as the producer of the hormone insulin, has been the focus of mainstream diabetes treatment. Led by Harith Rajagopalan, Co-Founder and CEO, Fractyl is instead focusing on the gut. By targeting the upper intestine, or duodenum, Fractyl addresses a root cause of insulin resistance: the altered intestinal lining of diabetes patients, which has become damaged due to high sugar Western diets. Through their minimally invasive outpatient procedure, Fractyl works to reverse insulin resistance, the hormonal imbalance that causes diabetes, by resurfacing the gut lining of patients. For the 100 million plus diabetes patients worldwide, this procedure could be a game changer—one that means they no longer have to take daily insulin. Furthermore, and importantly, employing Fractyl’s procedure could help to reduce the massive physical and financial burdens of diabetes management that we face on both individual and societal levels.  

The team at Freenome, lead by CEO Gabriel Otte, is also looking to improve the patient experience and doing so by striving to change the way we approach diagnosis. Instead of waiting until patients are symptomatic, they are developing precise and proactive screenings for a range of diseases, including cancer. By combining machine learning, biology, and computer science, Freenome’s blood test looks for changes in DNA fragments over time as a means to detect disease in its earliest and most manageable stage. Gabriel and his team want to change the paradigm—instead of fixing health after we become sick, they want to find disease while it’s still manageable and allow patients to maintain their health.

The team at Zipline saw an old, persistent problem and created a totally unexpected solution. Many countries face difficulties maintaining adequate stocks of medicines in rural areas due to high cost and challenges related to proper storage conditions. In places such as Tanzania, where 68% of the country’s 55 million people live in rural, or Rwanda, where 70% of the country’s 12 million people live in hard to reach areas, the challenge of providing patients with the medical care they require has long been a difficult limit to overcome. In response, Keenan Wyrobek, Zipline’s Co-founder and Head of Product and Engineering, and his team are building and deploying drones—or “Zips”—that deliver life-saving medical supplies, including blood and medications, to remote areas. These drones are capable of carrying out 500 deliveries per day, navigating through difficult terrains and gaps in infrastructure, and flying at all times upon request. Zipline has been deploying Zips throughout Rwanda since late 2016, and they recently announced their plan to expand to Tanzania. By thinking truly out of the box, Keenan and the team at Zipline are confronting accessibility issues and transforming healthcare for millions of people.

Drug pricing is another seemingly intractable issue in health and medicine. Take for example cancer drugs that cost a patient over $100,000 per year. A physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Peter Bach is confronting the complex drug pricing issue head-on. As Director of the hospital’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes and the founder of the Drug Pricing Lab, Peter and his team strive to change the way we think about drug costs. By bringing more transparency to the drug pricing process and identifying rational approaches, Peter works to balance getting patients the treatment they need, while also ensuring drug developers have adequate funding to research, improve, and develop important therapeutics. To do this, the DPL team researches ways to reduce the cost of drugs, educate health professionals and policymakers, and promote policy reform. In service of these objectives, Peter and the DPL launched the DrugAbacus in 2015, an interactive tool that allows users to compare the actual prices of certain cancer drugs to their prices based on value. Through his work, Peter is shifting the focus of drug pricing and putting patients at the center of the conversation.

From the inside of an operating room to the hills of Rwanda, these six Speakers and Innovators are taking on the status quo and driving big changes in health and medicine. At TEDMED 2017, we’ll hear from these outstanding individuals, as well as dozens of others, who are all working in that fertile zone between “what is” and “what could be?”. Their efforts are pushing past perceived limits, driving innovation, and improving health outcomes for all.

The Human Brain and All Its Complexities

From thoughts and feelings to neurons and pathways, we humans have been trying to better understand our minds and uncover its mysteries ever since our brains developed the capacity for modern human cognition. However, despite the huge advancements brain research has made in recent decades, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this intricate and fascinating organ. At TEDMED 2017, we’re putting the brain center stage with Speakers and Innovators who are doing groundbreaking work in fields such as brain development and genetics, neurodegenerative and neurological diseases, and human cognition.

Neuroscientist Guo-li Ming is creating and using brain organoids—miniature, simplified, lab-grown versions of organs—to model diseases and experiment with new treatment options. Specifically, Guo-li and her lab at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are focused on the Zika virus and the severe brain defect it causes, microcephaly. After the recent outbreak of the Zika virus, no one knew what exactly was causing microcephaly, which was a major roadblock to helping patients and finding potential treatment options. However, in early 2016, Guo-li’s lab, along with researchers at two other universities, published groundbreaking studies that showed how damage to neural progenitor cells could explain the reduced brain volume in babies that had been exposed to Zika in the womb. Because of Guo-li’s research, doctors, scientists, and researchers have a better understanding of the disease— which will hopefully lead to a clearer path forward in terms of treating Zika patients.  

Steven McCarroll is also exploring new ways to study the human brain and the conditions that affect its development and function. As a geneticist, Steven is particularly interested in the role that genes play in developing the brain differently in different people. At the McCarroll Lab in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Steven and his team of scientists are developing new technology that combines genetics, molecular biology, and engineering in an effort to uncover the causes of mental illness. In 2016, the McCarroll Lab published studies linking schizophrenia to specific gene variations that recruit immune molecules into “pruning” synapses in the brain, a discovery that is leading toward new ways of thinking about the biological basis of schizophrenia and new approaches for discovering medicines to the treat the illness.

At Yumanity Therapeutics, Chee Yeun Chung and her teammates are working to develop new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases that are caused from protein misfolding. Currently, there are over 55 million people affected by these diseases, with no kind of effective cure or treatment to change the pathology of their conditions. Along with Chee, Yumanity’s Scientific Co-founder and Associate Director of Assay Development, the team focuses on repairing the specific phenotypes of the cells and pathologies of the diseases caused by protein misfolding. Their goal is straightforward: to develop novel therapies aimed at improving the outcomes for these patients. They do so by using an integrated three-platform system comprised of a phenotypic screening platform to model disease pathologies, a human neuronal platform, and a drug-target identification platform. Combining all three of these platforms allows Yumanity to expedite their process of identifying new possible disease-modifying drugs and targets to improve the prognosis for the millions of patients affected by neurodegenerative diseases worldwide.

Like neurodegenerative diseases, neurological diseases are a condition that affects millions of people—Parkinson’s alone affects 1 million Americans. At Cala Health, Founding CEO Kate Rosenbluth and her colleagues have embraced electricity as a novel therapy to target neural circuits to “retune’ the body. Their technology, neuroperipheral therapy™, combines innovations in three categories—medical devices, consumer electronics and individualized medicine—to provide non-invasive treatment for patients suffering from neurological diseases. Currently, Cala is working to alleviate the symptoms of the essential tremor by stimulating nerves using a body-worn electronic. With their technology, Cala hopes to use electricity as a means of providing individualized medicine and custom therapies to patients with a range of nervous system disorders.

Similar to Cala Health, Kernel is also developing new technology to help us better understand and treat various neurological diseases. Chief Commercialization Officer Dan Sobek and his teammates are not only working on next-generation brain interfaces that aim to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s Disease, but also mental and degenerative illnesses like depression and Alzheimer’s. In parallel, the company is also developing consumer-grade devices that are able to “listen” to the brain and gather information. By accessing and then interpreting the brain’s complexities, the team intends to develop applications to “illuminate the mechanisms of intelligence and extend cognition.” Ultimately, Kernel aims to explore the possibilities of enhancing the brain—making humans smarter and one day even interfacing with computers.

These Speakers and Innovators are working on ways to better understand the intricacies and address the challenges of the complex human brain. From creating brain organoids to model diseases and test treatments, to uncovering the gene variations associated with mental illness, to developing new treatment options for neurodegenerative, neurological, and degenerative diseases, TEDMED 2017 will feature individuals who are doing pioneering work in their fields to advance our understanding of our body’s most critical organ.

Helping Young People in Crisis, One Text at a Time

Written by Tracy Costigan. Tracy is a distinguished behavioral scientist and a senior learning officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Through her role, she is involved in the process of understanding and measuring key health and health care issues essential to the Foundation’s strategy to move our nation toward a Culture of Health.

Reprinted with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog.

It began with a shocking text message that left the staff at deeply shaken.

The non-profit organization was originally created to promote youth volunteer and social action opportunities. It uses texting—the primary way in which teens communicate—to send thousands of daily messages alerting members to clothing drives, health fairs, park clean-ups, and more. Responses have been common. In addition to the usual sign-up requests, texters have also sought advice on how to handle a bully at school or help a friend struggling with addiction.

But as DoSomething’s CEO Nancy Lublin explained in a memorable TED Talk, one particular message from an anonymous girl changed their world.






DoSomething’s alarmed team asked who was assaulting her. A few hours later they got this reply:




And a few minutes after that:





Staff scrambled for guidance from a nearby sexual assault center and reached out to the girl again, but sadly, never heard back. Yet the anonymous girl’s desperation and courage spurred Nancy Lublin into convening a small team that created the Crisis Text Line.

Throwing Out a Lifeline with Text
Crisis Text Line initially launched quietly in Chicago and El Paso using 4,000 mobile numbers that were pulled from the database. A text message invited recipients to opt in.

Despite the complete absence of marketing to promote the new effort, it grew at lightning fast speed as recipients spread the word across their own networks. Within four months, Crisis Text Line was in all 295 area codes of the United States yielding faster geographic growth than when Facebook launched.Now an independent nonprofit, Crisis Text Line provides free, text-based support to people in crisis anywhere in the United States, 24/7. Their average texter is 18 years old and Lublin notes that text has proven to be an ideal way to counsel young people. It offers anonymity, privacy, and access to a team of trained professionals who can work together to provide support that’s tailored to the crisis at hand. According to Lublin, almost two thirds of all texters are sharing something for the very first time that they never felt comfortable confiding in friends or family. This underscores just how trusted the service and medium are.

Many messages express struggles with anxiety and bullying; suicide and depression comprise 35 percent of messages received. Staff perform on average at least one active rescue a day, intervening when a texter has shared plans for imminently harming themselves or others. Real-time surveying of texters also reveals that the service is reaching rural and low-income areas. For example, they are disproportionately reaching the state of Montana which ranks number one in the nation for suicide rates, and where the Native American population is also high. In fact, 6 percent of Crisis Text Line texters self-report as Native American—a very sizable percentage considering that only 1.7 percent of people in the United States are Native American or Alaska Native.

After a little more than three years of operation, the organization’s volunteer Crisis Counselors and texters have exchanged more than 30 million text messages, accumulating the nation’s largest set of crisis data. It created to help researchers, journalists, and public health experts better understand what drives teens to crisis and help policymakers and community leaders work together to focus on prevention.

Expanded Data and Analytics will Help Inform Interventions
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recognizes the incredible impact that Crisis Text Line is having on social and emotional development of adolescents across the country. That’s why we recently funded a major expansion of Crisis Text Line’s data infrastructure and analytics program. Our goal is to help stakeholders use local, anonymized data to examine patterns of adolescent crises. This will inform interventions that can promote the health and well-being of our future generations.

Researchers are already taking advantage. For example, social work and public health experts at the University of Montana are sifting through tens of thousands of messages to better understand patterns of suicidal thought in the state. They hope to learn why Montana texters are ranked number one in the nation for prevalence of suicidal thoughts by exploring how suicidal ideation correlates with seasonal events, such as harsh winter weather and the academic calendar. They will also explore how loneliness, substance abuse, and relationship changes may affect suicidal thinking.

When their analysis is complete, researchers will work closely with state, tribal, and nonprofit leaders to improve mental health and suicide prevention programs and better target local interventions.

We hope this evidence-based, coordinated approach will spread throughout the United States, covering a wide variety of issues, including relationship challenges, eating disorders, LGBTQ issues, and other sources of teen stress and anxiety. You can view broader trends uncovered by the analytics team, and explore the interactive data visualizations available at

We R Here 4 U
We believe that whatever your geographic, ethnic, socioeconomic, or physical circumstances, you deserve an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. That’s the essence of a Culture of Health, the Northstar that guides the work of RWJF.

Building a Culture of Health requires more than treating illness; it means creating an integrated and comprehensive approach. A Culture of Health puts well-being at the center and ensures that all children and families have access to the social and emotional building blocks of lifelong health and resilience. Crisis Text Line is advancing that vision by supporting teens and deepening our understanding about the root causes of stress and anxiety among young people today.

Finally, if you or a loved one are experiencing a crisis, please text 741741 from anywhere in the United States. Trained Crisis Counselors are always available, and the service is free and confidential.

Learn more about Crisis Text Line’s Open Data Collaboration and apply for access to this new resource.→