Monday, November 17, 2014

Join the public health movement

How can we reach our goal of creating the healthiest nation in one generation?

Everyone’s going to have to work together toward “bold, transformative change,” said Steven Woolf, of Virginia Commonwealth University, during today’s session on “Healthiest Nation in a Generation: Linking Science and Policy.”

“We really do have to start changing the conversation away from health care and physical health,” said Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

APHA Executive Board member Paul Meissner, who also chairs the APHA Strategic Planning Committee, asked session attendees to brainstorm ways we can measure whether we’re closing in on the goal of improving the nation’s health. We need to do so, as many of the panelists pointed out, because data is a key driver of change.

Woolf shared some data based on a study of 17 developed countries that found the U.S. does poorly — in fact, it often places dead last — on many measures of health. And our high obesity rates, lower life expectancy and other bad grades in comparison to our peer countries don’t boil down to simple answers.

“There is no single explanation that could account for all these different problems,” Woolf said.

The U.S. has the highest child poverty rates of the 17 countries in the study, and that’s been the case since the 1980s. Americans eat more calories than people in other developed countries, and we tend to have less investment in social services, social programs and safety net programs. To read the data for yourself, download a copy of “U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.”

“If we keep doing what we’re doing now, it’s pretty clear that’s not going to work,” Woolf said. “A lot would have to change just to get us to average.”

Want to help turn the tide? Sign APHA's healthiest nation pledge. And check out our Healthiest Nation in One Generation pages online.

— D.C.

In the above video, Steven Woolf talks about U.S. health in an international context. Video courtesy the National Academies

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