10/25/2012 01:55 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Johnson & Johnson, Mayor Booker Partner for Better Health

When I say the words Johnson & Johnson, you can probably smell the baby shampoo we all used as children and which you may still use with your own children. The company is iconic in American culture. They encompass 125 years of production in the United States and despite their most recent ups and downs with product recalls and chemical concerns with their baby products, Johnson & Johnson claims to still pursue the healthiest products for consumers. To punctuate this dedication, Johnson & Johnson has introduced the Healthy Project, a new movement launched by the company that hopes to inspire healthy changes among consumers.

On October 23, Johnson and Johnson held a forum in New York City to introduce their new initiative. The event, hosted by Lisa Ling, featured such advocates as Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, as well as Bettyann Creighton, Director of Health, Safety and Physical Education for Philadelphia public schools. Both leaders have implemented partner programs with Johnson & Johnson into their schools and spoke fondly of the changes they have seen in their school communities. The school-based program, Activity Works, is designed as a "movement break." Gone are the days of good ol' fashioned recess. In an atmosphere of high stakes testing, even movement must be academically focused. No freeze tag or dodge ball here. Instead kids are stationed at their desks for 12 minutes of running in place, jumping and climbing while they watch related video images, designed by Microsoft, on the screen in front of them. As Ms. Creighton explained, sometimes kids are taking a walk through the mountains or learning about the rainforest as they exercise.

Such private-public partnerships have advocates like Mayor Booker excited about the positive changes he sees in his community after building relationships with companies like Johnson & Johnson. As Mayor Booker reminds us, all great change happens when varying sectors of our economy come together to facilitate lasting social and behavioral change in our communities.

I sat down to speak with Mayor Booker about the healthy community changes he has seen in recent years. Included on his list of successes were the installation of numerous community gardens throughout Newark and new green space on top of a LEED-certified apartment building for veterans. Residents are now able to grow vegetables and enjoy the peace of gardening. The city has also opened several farmers' markets and has done much in schools and with small businesses to educate citizens about the importance of healthy eating. Local bodegas have installed refrigerators in order to carry fresh fruits and vegetables, a rare commodity in this once bleak, impoverished food desert. Businesses are booming with these recent additions and healthy living initiatives taken on by Mayor Booker have been quite popular.

He admits, however, the biggest roadblock to success is the inertia that is evident in minority communities that lack cultural confidence. The solution, he believes, is for individuals, companies and organizations to step up and take the lead on changing the way Americans live and eat. He mentions that he is a vegetarian and tries to work out frequently, even though his schedule is extremely busy. He preaches making small, lasting changes and teaching kids the right way from the start, rather than trying to break bad habits later.

"Parents don't want their kids to be obese or have any of the mental or physical health issues associated being overweight. All parents want their kids to be successful," says the mayor. He feels companies like Johnson & Johnson are leading the charge for social change in an atmosphere of poor health.

Also included in J&J's wellness campaign is a free new app that will be revealed in tandem with the release of Windows 8 on October 26. The app, Health Scorecard, is designed to help adults calculate quickly the health changes they need to make in their lives. By plugging in one's age, weight, blood pressure and other important information, one can calculate an appropriate BMI, weight, cholesterol or blood sugar level. The app will be available for Apple and Android users in the near future.

I spoke briefly with Michael Weinberger, Director of IT Marketplace Innovation for Johnson & Johnson, who has headed up the Health Scorecard project. Mr. Weinberger believes the goal of the app is to improve health literacy among users. But what is "health literacy"? According to J&J, it's the amount of information and understanding available to a consumer about his/her personal health.

With this app, users take the guesswork out of healthy living and are provided with an instant set of number with which they take to their health care professional to discuss. Johnson & Johnson hopes to partner with other companies to make the app available in schools and in pharmacies throughout the country.

In the United States we spend 17 percent of our GDP on health care costs, making poor health and health epidemics untenable for us to sustain. A healthy population makes for a healthy economy and no matter what sector we may be working in, this is something that affects all of use. To continue down the road of ignoring our health problems and allowing our minority populations to flounder in ill health, is simply no longer an option. What is the best solution? Mayor Booker, Johnson & Johnson and others believe the answer is the marriage between public and private sectors. Time will tell if the partnerships have lasting changes on the health of our communities. What will health and wellness be like five or ten years in the United States? Only time and hard work will tell.