Over 250 people attended the launch event for the Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change in Hillman Hall, Jan. 28, setting the record for live attendance at an event in the Clark-Fox Forum.
Founded and directed by Brown School Professor Michal Grinstein-Weiss, the Envolve Center is industry-academic collaboration between the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University and Centene Corporation. The Envolve Center’s purpose is to improve the health of vulnerable populations by using path-breaking behavioral and public health science to create, evaluate and implement translational research on improving health behavior.
Grinstein-Weiss introduced the Envolve Center with an overview of its goals. She emphasized the center’s collaborative model, which will leverage the expertise of stakeholders across healthcare, from health coaches to public health researchers to executives and beyond. “What we find that will work,” she promised, “we will scale to millions.”
Audience members included representatives from academia, industry, local and national nonprofits, and media, reflecting the transdisciplinary nature of the Envolve Center and the resonance of a key question for the center’s research: If we know how to be healthy, why aren’t we in better health? The event featured compelling, interactive presentations by the Envolve Center’s leaders, focusing on the center’s potential contribution and its three main areas of research: behavioral economics, intergenerational lifestyle interventions, and health communication.
Among the distinguished presenters was Dan Ariely, faculty director for the Envolve Center, three-time New York Times bestselling author, and one of the world’s most influential contemporary behavioral economists. Ariely spoke about his own experience as a severe burn victim, sharing how as a patient, he was intensely frustrated by his nurses’ refusal to explore a less painful bandage removal method.
“[In every language], the word ‘patient’ has a passive element of things being done to you,” he pointed out. But through evidence-based methods, he said, perhaps patients can have more of an influence on their treatment. We have “two options… [to do] what our gut intuition tells us to do, what everybody has been doing, what they tell us is the right thing to do… but is it really right?” he said. “Maybe we should at least look a little at the other path and maybe we will discover, from time to time, better ways.”
The center’s other esteemed faculty directors, Matthew Kreuter, Associate Dean for Public Health and Kahn Family Professor, and Debra Haire-Joshu, Joyce Wood Professor, addressed the audience on their respective research areas. Kreuter focused on how health communications can humanize research by seeking ways to improve lives overall, rather than narrowly focusing on health, while Haire-Joshu provided evidence on promising strategies to address the nation’s obesity epidemic.
David Bornstein, a New York Times journalist who reports on social innovation, served as the event’s keynote speaker. In his speech, Bornstein explored the stories of innovators he has covered and commented on the Envolve Center’s capacity to effect change. He noted that “it’s really about taking all the knowledge [we now have] and putting [it] into effect through a very powerful company and distribution channel reaching millions of people.”
Dan Cave, CEO of Envolve PeopleCare and one of the leading visionaries who created the Envolve Center, provided concluding remarks along with Dean Edward F. Lawlor. Cave described the long-term challenge that the center hopes to contribute to solving. “We can teach [patients] what to do,” he remarked, “[but] some of them still won’t change. There’s something else that’s missing. There’s something that has to do with psychology and human behavior that we must unlock.”
Other speakers at the event included Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, Washington University in St. Louis; Jesse Hunter, Executive Vice President, Products, Centene Corporation; and Jeremy Corbett, MD, Chief Science and Product Officer, Envolve PeopleCare.
Learn more about the Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change at envolve.wustl.edu.