The Government might not be able to solve the Nation’s health problems alone, but providing plans for public action is a big part of what it can do.
Outlining two of these plans, Healthy People 2020 and The National Prevention Strategy, was the goal of a recent lecture at the University of Maryland (UMD) given by Rear Admiral Penelope Slade-Sawyer, a U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps Officer, and Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Health. Her speech, sponsored by UMD’s School of Public Health, was entitled, “Advancing the Health of the Nation: Healthy People 2020 and The National Prevention Strategy.”
RADM Penelope Slade-Sawyer speaking to an audience at University of Maryland’s School of Public Health bout the Healthy People 2020 initiative.
According to the plan’s website, the goal of Healthy People is to provide “science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans.” Started in 1980 with Healthy People 1990, Healthy People’s objectives are to “encourage collaborations across communities and sectors, empower individuals toward making informed health decisions, and measure the impact of prevention activities.”
RADM Slade-Sawyer states that while there is a lot that the Government and community institutions can and need to do to facilitate improvements in the Nation’s health, “our individual biology and behavior affect our health as individuals and the health of the population.” Healthy People accounts for this by including a section on its website with tools that empower each individual to improve his or her own health habits.
“When people have access to easy-to-understand information, it assists and empowers them to make better and healthier choices,” she said.
Since Healthy People is designed to “align the things that people are already doing to improve our Nation’s health,” as RADM Slade-Sawyer puts it, it only makes sense that its website, HealthyPeople.gov, is interactive, not only proposing action but allowing users to insert their own programs and best practices for improving personal and community health.
With events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and the outbreak of SARS and H1N1, the web-platform has played a significant role in making Healthy People a more relevant program, as constant reevaluation and adjustments can be made throughout the decade.
During her lecture, RADM Slade-Sawyer was careful to emphasize that “Healthy People is not only about improving health, but also achieving health equity,” a message that hit particularly close to home for Dr. Steven Thomas. Thomas, who attended the lecture, is Director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity.
“This is an extremely important part of the message that we cannot afford to lose,” Thomas said.
Healthy People’s solution? Improve education.
“The number one social determinant of health outcomes is education,” RADM Slade-Sawyer said. This means education for the patients, but sometimes, it can also mean education for leaders of other Federal agencies, and organizations that don’t realize that they can play a role in public health improvement, she said.
For example, how can the Department of Transportation improve health through its policies? “More bike trails,” said RADM Slade-Sawyer. “Healthy People is a model for Federal collaboration.”
But at the end of the day, “Healthy People cannot, and should not force people or organizations to change their habits,” she said. That has to be up to them
The National Prevention Strategy is a plan closely tied to Healthy People that identifies goals, priorities, evidence-based recommendations, and measures for improving health through prevention. In addition to Healthy People, the National Prevention Strategy aligns with other existing national efforts such as the National Quality Strategy. The National Prevention Strategy has as its priorities, tobacco free living, preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use, healthy eating, active living, mental and emotional well-being, reproductive and sexual health, injury and violence free living.
Deborah Hipkins, a Community Health Nurse from Montgomery County, said that her frustrations “were intensified by the presentation, because it contained so much information that is never given to patients, which would help them to better help themselves.” Even she only had a slight awareness of Healthy People or the USPHS before the presentation.
Explaining that Healthy People and The National Prevention Strategy have no marketing engine, RADM Slade-Sawyer challenged Hipkins to work towards changing this, saying that awareness is everyone’s fight, “I want you to spread the word about these plans.”