Not Designed for Health with Steve Downs

The Other 80

Jan 24 2024 • 40 mins

The modern world, and the products we use everyday, are making us sick. But what if we could shift this trend and start to build health into everyday life? That’s exactly what Steve Downs and Thomas Goetz, co-founders of Building H, are working on. Steve, the former CTO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, joins us to discuss how Building H is helping companies and designers re-engineer products and “product environments” so they improve rather than harm health.

We discuss:

  • Shocking trends in American health: 48% of Americans are lonely, 35% dont get six hours a night of sleep and 60% of adult calories come from ultra-processed food.
  • The mistake of thinking of our daily choices as “individual” decisions, when these decisions are profoundly shaped by our environments and the products we use.
  • The Building H Index, which evaluates everyday products against five metrics of health: eating, physical activity, sleep, social connection, and spending time outdoors.
  • Culdesac - A real-estate developer that is building “cities for people without cars”.

Steve asks how we could broaden consumer product regulation to focus on broad health impacts, not just safety:

"McDonald's is not responsible for all the food related chronic illnesses in America. But you might argue that they are, I don't know, 1.7%, responsible or 3.8% responsible …  I think we ultimately need to get to a place where if your product is leading to unhealthy behaviors, which is leading to illness and disease and cost, there may need to be some accountability for that."

Relevant Links

Building H website

Building H Index

AJHP paper on the product environment

Daniel Lieberman’s book on the history of the human body (no affiliate fee taken)

Culdesac website

HBS Impact-weighted accounts

International Foundation for Valuing Impact

ANNOUNCEMENT: Building H is seeking volunteers with a background in public health, healthcare or health policy to help build the Building H Index by rating products and services on their health impacts. If you’re interested in participating in a short scoring exercise, please go to this site for details and sign up

About Our Guest

Steve Downs works at Building H as a co-founder. Prior to his role at Building H, Steve was the chief technology and strategy officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) where he led a transformation of the Foundation’s practice of program strategy, putting in place an approach that is highly flexible and adaptive. Over his career at RWJF, Steve held a variety of management roles — including chief...

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