Video and Audio
Select video and audio from Spotlight Health and the Aspen Ideas Festival. All video and audio is from 2018.
The United States is not a particularly happy country, according to the World Happiness Report. Issued annually by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the report puts the USA in 18th place, just above the United Kingdom and surpassed by all the Scandinavian countries, Costa Rica, Canada, and Australia, among others. The rankings are based on measures of income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity.
Human beings swarm with bacteria, viruses, and fungi — trillions and trillions of them, inhabiting virtually every part of our bodies. Known collectively as the microbiome, they play a vital role in keeping the immune system strong, synthesizing nutrients, maintaining heart health, and so much more. But when these synergistic communities of microbes are disrupted, we become more susceptible to infections and disease.
The US is aging – between 2012 and 2050, the number of adults over age 60 will jump from 43 to 84 million, representing about 20 percent of the population. Meanwhile, smaller and more scattered families will mean greater numbers of people growing old alone. Fostering the social connections and cross-generational interactions that are so essential to healthy aging has become a national struggle.
In a wide-ranging interview with PBS anchor Judy Woodruff, best-selling author Atul Gawande explores some of the most pressing issues in health and medicine today. Informed by his experiences as a practicing physician and a lucid staff writer for The New Yorker, Gawande brings a deeply humanist perspective to topics such as making surgery safer across the globe, how health systems can innovate, and what really matters as death approaches.
The past two years have been the hottest ever recorded on Earth. Hundreds of gigatonnes of ice have been lost in Greenland and Antarctica and levels of trapped greenhouse gas have never been so high, with carbon dioxide readings above 410 parts per million. Those vital signs tell a story of a planet in trouble, threatening sea-level rise with disastrous implications for the health of communities worldwide.
To address the food deserts throughout many of New York City’s low-income communities, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund (LMTIF) leveraged public and private partnerships to build healthy food initiatives focused on contributing vitality, economic opportunity, and health equity. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and LMTIF will release new findings on the impact of LMTIF’s 10-year, $15 million initiative - which funded 45 grantees.
The health of women and girls is closely tied to their right to make informed decisions about sexuality, marriage, and child-bearing, but the US is stepping back from leadership in this area. For the first time, the State Department has eliminated detailed information about contraception and maternal health care in its annual country reports on human rights.
Once considered a boutique enterprise, design thinking is no longer a luxury available only to a select few in the developed world. This novel approach to decision making is going democratic, with well-funded efforts to share it more widely, and apply it more equitably. Design thinking offers a package of tools to promote human-centered, financially viable solutions, opening the door to creative solutions that address long-languishing problems.
Leveraging global health resources requires on-the-ground knowledge and deep understanding of what motivates the public, business, and philanthropic sectors. Impact bonds, entrepreneurial approaches to philanthropy, and other novel financing strategies are ways to attract new pools of money while generating rewards for achieving positive health outcomes. NGOs can seed innovation and then draw in government to scale up.
As US special envoy for climate change in the Obama administration, Todd Stern helped cobble together a consensus among almost 200 countries to hold themselves accountable for reducing global warming.
Genomic discoveries were supposed to transform medicine and move us to a new vision of preventive health care. But 15 years after the Human Genome Project was complete, that still hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer genetics companies are bypassing health care providers to market ancestry, disease risk, diet, exercise and even dating and wine applications directly to the public.
Opioids have attracted much of the public attention given to drug abuse in recent years, but they are far from the only pharmaceuticals that can be abused. Nora Volkow, whose research helped establish drug addiction as a disease of the brain, will talk about less-publicized prescription drug epidemics. Overdose deaths from benzodiazepines, used to treat anxiety and insomnia, have jumped sevenfold in a short few years.
The complexity of indigenous cultures is underappreciated by most modern observers, yet native people have sophisticated knowledge and ways of thinking that could help heal the planet. Traditional societies seldom distinguish between the health of the environment and the health of those who inhabit it, and recognize that damage to one is damage to the other.
Dozens of physicians, health consultants and other medical experts have gone on the payroll at Apple and Google to drive research. Amazon’s secret health team – called 1492 – is exploring new platforms for electronic medical records, virtual physician visits, and health apps. Predictive analytics, automated diagnoses, and wearable sensors are other areas of digital opportunity.
A healthy community is characterized not only by the absence of illness but by attributes that promote well-being and enable a high quality of life. While social policy and public and private investments are important contributors, the broad-based engagement of local people is also key.
Advances in women’s health have led to breakthroughs in breast cancer imaging, hormone therapy, and longer lives for many women. Yet much of medical research does not take into account gender differences, and women-specific health needs are often not addressed. Health outcomes for black women, in particular, fall far behind those of white women, and maternal mortality rates for black women in the US are far lower than in many developing nations.
The Aspen Institute’s Health Innovators Fellows are industry leaders selected for their entrepreneurial approaches to some of the most complex health care challenges in the US. In four “Ignite” talks—a popular international format for fast, fun, and provocative presentations—the Fellows provide a rapid-fire look at leveraging innovations across the health care ecosystem to improve health and health care.
Artificial intelligence, which recognizes patterns in data, images, and sound, is poised to move from the laboratory to the clinic and may upend health delivery in the process. Soon, AI may generate algorithms to calculate an individual patient’s risk of hospital-acquired infection, based on vital signs and other health records, and to predict when it is safe to remove someone from a ventilator.
The Veterans Health Administration, which serves nine million vets, has come under fire for long delays in providing services and reimbursing clinicians, and fixes are clearly needed. But former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin got a lot of pushback when he argued against privatizing the $200 billion system.
Thirty-two million gallons of mercury are trapped under the immense ice sheets in the Arctic Circle. As the Earth warms and the permafrost thaws, that toxic chemical could be released into the ocean or escape into the atmosphere. Other devastating threats also loom large. Bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that have been immobile for centuries will emerge from their deep freeze, threatening infections against which we have no immunity.