Monday, October 31, 2011

Leading the way to better health

"Healthy People unifies the drives action in a public way to make our country stronger and healthier," said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during today's session on the "National Release of 2020 Leading Health Indicators."

Koh spoke to a packed room of Annual Meeting attendees as he released the 12 leading health indicator topic areas to resounding applause and cheer. The indicators are high-priority health issues included in Healthy People 2020, the nation's health objectives for the current decade. The indicators are intended to help health and public health professionals assess the health of the nation, facilitate collaboration and action, and help motivate entire communities to action.

So, ladies and gentlemen, here are your new leading health indicator topic areas: Access to health services; clinical preventive services, environmental quality; injury and violence; maternal, infant and child health; mental health; nutrition, physical activity and obesity; oral health (which made this list for the first time); reproductive and sexual health; social determinants (a theme that Koh said has galvanized decision-makers); substance abuse; and tobacco.

The new leading health indicator topic areas are a call to action, Koh said as he urged attendees to integrate the indicators into their public health policies and programs. He also announced that starting in the new year, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion will launch a new monthly series highlighting those who are addressing the leading indicators in innovative ways.

"Shoot for the stars," Koh said. "If you only land on the moon, you are still out of this world."

Session presenter Gail Christopher, vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, asked the session audience to give a round of applause for the social determinants having made it onto the leading indicator list. Christopher noted that education and closing graduation disparity gaps will be a critical focus as work moves forward.

"These indicators are also uniting us as one profession in the sense that the clinical and social determinants come together," she said.

Todd Park, chief technology officer at HHS, jumped to the mic next (and when APHA's Dr. Georges Benjamin, who moderated the session, told audience members to fasten their seat belts as Park stepped up to speak, he wasn't kidding. Park was pumped for public health!). Park excitedly announced a new challenge for attendees to tackle, calling on "you public health ninjas and princesses" to team up with techies to help solve priority health problems. The challenge involves developing innovative apps that can be used to make positive progress on the leading health indicators. An example of such a tool would be an app that social workers can offer to their clients that would help connect them to preventive services and allow them to keep track of their progress. The deadline for the challenge is March 9, 2012. For all the challenge details, visit

"May the force be with you," Park said. "We can't wait to see what you'll build."

For more on the new leading health indicators, visit

— K.K.

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