Our founder and CEO, Scott Turner, is often asked, why he started Healthy Future US?
As Scott considered how he could give back to society, following 30 years in business, he thought back to his own life:
Scott’s mother Cynthia was a healthy food “fanatic” in the 1960’s—long before that was common or cool. She never gave her children sodas or served desserts, and she insisted on dragging Scott & his younger brothers to the scary Health Food Store in the area. There, she loaded up on gag-inducing but “very nutritious” vitamin-laden supplements for her children. Yet later in life, Scott realized that his Mom had been on to something: Americans’ nutrition was terrible…and getting worse—and this was increasingly harming our health.
Scott’s Aunt Jan was a wonderful lady. But she suffered from severe obesity, and developed multiple chronic health conditions, then died too young. Could that have been prevented?
In addition, Scott’s brother Craig became depressed and committed suicide, while a student at University of Arizona. As the family tried to figure out why, it became painfully clear that mental health issues, which were rarely discussed in the 1970’s, were actually surprisingly prevalent among young people. Was there any way that, somehow, something good could come out of such a terrible event?
We Started by Doing Our Homework… Literally
As part of preparing to transition from the business world to the nonprofit social sector, Scott went back to graduate school part-time in 2007 to earn a PhD. This helped prepare him for work in policy-making, education, and public health—including utilizing research studies and data to help identify the most effective strategies.
Thanks in part to Michelle Obama raising awareness of widespread child inactivity & health issues, Scott conducted dissertation research on physical activity, nutrition education, and child obesity prevention in Phoenix metro area Title 1 schools in 2011-2012. This confirmed that excellent program interventions can have major short-term impact. But without a more long-term, systematic, systemic approach to follow-up early education, initial impact fades over time.
Unfortunately, a comprehensive review of peer-reviewed journal articles and government reports, plus thousands of Google searches, widespread personal networking, and other information-gathering, failed to find any practical affordable models, which could successfully change our country’s trajectory.
Scott also began assisting Arizona health & education nonprofits starting in 2010, as a member of nonprofit Social Venture Partners (SVP)—where he later served on the Board for many years. SVP works with high potential nonprofits to help increase their capacity & impact. Working with nonprofits also helped Scott to better understand the issues in Arizona, and both the potential and the limitations of traditional nonprofit approaches.
During that time, Scott served as SVP Arizona’s Lead Partner for a local nonprofit working on improving child activity and nutrition through schools. He was also invited by the Ford Foundation to a national conference of SVP leaders, who were most involved in K-12 programs & advocacy.
Scott then met with many state leader-stakeholders from all sectors: state board of education & school district board members, school district superintendents & principals, charter school leaders; physical education, health education, & other teachers; AHCCCS/Medicaid & private health plan executives; hospitals and health care providers; legislators & legislative staff; the governor & governor’s office advisors; state & county government agencies; employers, business & economic development leaders; health, education & community foundations & nonprofits; university professors & researchers; and many others:
Many of the leaders and organizations we met with joined our advisor network.
Virtually everyone we met with was concerned about the health situation. But no comprehensive strategy existed for change-either in Arizona or in other states. No one had figured out how to “move the needle,” and sustainably reverse the root causes of widespread inactivity & unhealthy nutrition—much less addressing increasing trauma & stress—at a large enough scale to change the health destiny of entire states.
Without a new approach, an unhealthy future loomed—dominated by pervasive diabetes, heart disease, severe obesity & obesity-related cancer, major back & arthritis issues, ADHD, anxiety & depression, plus many other chronic diseases—and resulting in ever-increasing health costs & financial problems.
Nevertheless, during those years of networking and laying groundwork in 2014-2016, in addition to starting to develop an excellent advisor network, we identified a ground-breaking program worth scaling statewide: University of Arizona’s Partners for Healthy Promises. We then used that work as the basis for our Plan-Develop-Evaluate model.
We were told by a number of school district superintendents, that changing the state’s A-F school accountability system for their schools was critical. So we joined a major State Board of Education (SBE) rule-making process in September 2016. When we started, we had the support of 2 or 3 out of 13 Committee members. In January 2017, we won a key Committee vote. In April 2017, the State Board unanimously approved a resolution, which included adding physical, health & arts education to the state A-F school accountability system.
We established a statewide A-F Workgroup, composed of teachers, school administrators, health nonprofits and others. We began discussing how a statewide evaluation/assessment system would work, and potentially become a national model. We are getting ready to try out several potential approaches, in preparation for the next stage of SBE approval.
We were still immersed in the A-F regulatory rule-making, when a bill was introduced by a state legislator in 2017 to require 50 minutes of unstructured recess daily, for grades K-5. We began working with the parent & teacher group Arizonans for Recess to help pass this bill. Neither of our organizations had been consulted ahead of time, and we felt the bill was too ambitious for the legislature. We eventually worked out a compromise for the next legislative session to mandate two daily recesses for virtually all K-5 district and charter school students, but without specifying the number of minutes or the type of recess. This bill passed during the next legislative session with >90% support, and was signed by the governor in April 2018.
For more information on our policy work, please go to the Policies page.
In 2018 & 2019, we started talking to legislators about potential appropriations. School superintendents and school boards had claimed that the recess law was an “unfunded mandate.” We were determined to get some money into underfunded schools specifically to improve school health & wellness. However, it soon became clear that we would need a larger & more powerful coalition to secure the legislative monies needed to move the needle.
With the encouragement of UnitedHealthcare, Aetna Mercy Care, and Social Finance, we began developing a Pay For Success structure to provide initial financing to start scaling our model. A number of leading public school district superintendents were interested in participating. Then came the pandemic.
We made significant progress during the pandemic, even though many health & education organizations were overwhelmed dealing with COVID-19:
- After helping co-found the Arizona School Health & Wellness Coalition just before the pandemic, Scott served as Co-Lead of the Advocacy/Policy Action Team, and helped expand the size & impact of the Coalition. The number of participants increased more than 4x to over 400, and we concluded a partnership with the largest state parent organization, Arizona PTA.
- Co-authored an oped with Heritage Foundation, demonstrating the nonpartisan nature, national relevance, and increasing visibility of our work and thought leadership.
- Developed breakthrough cost-benefit analysis, which demonstrates high ROI with rapid payback for all key stakeholder groups—by increasing federal, state & private sector investment in evidence-based K-12 school health—including quality PE, health ed, physical activity, and mental health.
- With encouragement from key state leaders, we then began soft-launching a preliminary version of Healthy Students Healthy State, to bring $500M+/year in sustainable new public-private money into schools. We demonstrated rapid credible payback for funding stakeholders from health cost savings. Funders will include the legislature + federal/Medicaid/AHCCCS + private sector health plans—on a shared, matching basis.
We are now working to further increase our impact, by developing the capacity of the Healthy Future US organization.
Now that we have figured out, which scalable, highly effective, evidence-based policies and programs and other strategies to use, and how to do so at an affordable cost, with a high-ROI investment that will rapidly pay for itself and therefore become self-sustaining—it is now time to scale.
To do this, we need to partner financially with a number of individuals and organizations—particularly impact-oriented philanthropists, and those stakeholders who will benefit from lower health costs.
For information on nonprofit-investing in/donating to Healthy Future US, please visit our Support! section.