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Brownsville receives prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for helping people lead healthier lives

UTHealth’s collaborative work to address health concerns in the Valley gains national recognition

Belinda Reininger, Dr.PH., and Arturo Rodriguez accepting prize from Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF

Belinda Reininger, Dr.PH., and Arturo Rodriguez accepting prize from Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF

BROWNSVILLE – (June 25, 2014) –The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has been recognized for its role in the City of Brownsville’s receipt of the prestigious RWJF Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Brownsville was one of only six cities in the nation selected for the award, which was announced today at the Aspen Ideas Festival Spotlight: Health. The prize honors communities that are harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners, and stakeholders to help residents live healthier lives. Brownsville will receive a cash prize of $25,000 in recognition of its commitment to building a Culture of Health.

The award recognizes the collaboration of The University of Texas School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, part of UTHealth; the City of Brownsville’s Public Health Department; city leaders such as City Commissioner Rose M. Z. Gowen, M.D.; and the involvement of the community. Other key partners include the Community Advisory Board and United Brownsville.

“For the last 10 years, the School of Public Health has partnered with the Community Advisory Board, comprised of over 200 organizations and individuals from around the Rio Grande Valley, to improve health through research, implementation of evidence-based programs, mass media strategies, and policy and environmental change initiatives. The united, collaborative and evidence-based approach has created lasting change,” said Belinda Reininger, Dr.PH., associate professor of health promotion and behavioral science at the Brownsville campus.

Initiatives such as Tu Salud ¡Sí Cuenta!, a community-wide campaign to address chronic disease prevention that includes mass media and free exercise and nutrition classes, and the help of bilingual community health workers are essential to help uninsured and chronically ill residents live healthier lifestyles, Reininger said.

The city has also implemented a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance, a Complete Streets Resolution and a Master Hike and Bike Plan. Activities such as CycloBia, where thousands of residents walk, run, cycle and enjoy outdoor activities in traffic-free streets, and The Challenge, a city-wide, friendly weight-loss contest, have been highly successful to promote active lifestyles and have demonstrated the strength of community partnerships in action.  

“Over the past several years, we have taken concrete steps toward improving our community and the lives of our citizens. It would not have been possible without the commitment of all parties involved,“ said Arturo Rodriguez, Brownsville’s public health department director and alumnus of the UTHealth School of Public Health. “With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Brownsville will be able to sustain its efforts toward becoming a healthier and more vibrant city.”

“The success of our endeavors in creating a healthier city, physically and economically, largely depends on the continued engagement and support of city and community leaders, as well as the community itself,” Gowen said. “We must capitalize on the momentum built by this collaborative partnership to ensure health and prosperity for all our citizens.”

Brownsville was selected from more than 250 prize applications across the country. The other winning communities are Buncombe County, North Carolina; Durham County, North Carolina; Spokane County, Washington; Taos Pueblo, New Mexico; and Williamson, West Virginia. Learn more about the RWJF Culture of Health Prize and watch a video profile of Brownsville at

“The RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners are leading some of the nation’s most innovative efforts to build a national Culture of Health,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO. “These communities are inspiring examples of what is possible when all sectors work together so that every resident has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.”

The RWJF Culture of Health Prize was launched to further the work of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHR&R) program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps help communities understand the many factors that influence health and identify strategies community leaders can take to improve health. Find out more at

You can find the announcement and a video highlighting the work being done in Brownsville here.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

About the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute is the focal point within the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to address questions of what it takes to improve health across the population. The Institute advances health and well-being for all by developing and promoting evidence-informed approaches to policy and practice at the local, state, and national levels. The Institute leads the work on the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and manages the RWJF Culture of Health Prize. For more information, visit

Hannah Rhodes
Media Contact: 713-500-3030