RWJF Five Questions with TFAH's Jeff Levi

A prevention strategy progress report.

    • July 15, 2009

Public Health and Prevention

Public Health and Prevention

Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, offers a frontline assessment of the opportunity to integrate an effective prevention strategy into health reform.

Public Health and Prevention

Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, offers a frontline assessment of the opportunity to integrate an effective prevention strategy into health reform.

Health reform often focuses on providing quality, affordable health care to all. But that’s not enough. A strong public health system focused on prevention of disease and injury and preparedness for any health emergency must be a cornerstone of a health reform plan.

Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), offers a frontline assessment of the opportunity to integrate an effective prevention strategy into health reform. “In this year’s health reform debate, addressing prevention is actually not contested,” says Levi. “The commitment to prevention, the recognition that prevention has to be a fundamental part of health reform, is there.”

Right now, Americans are not as healthy as they could be or should be. Tens of millions of Americans suffer daily with serious diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Many of these diseases could be prevented. However, the health care system is focused on treating people after they’ve become sick instead of trying to keep them healthy in the first place. It’s more of a "sick care" system than a "health care" system.

The nation’s public health system is responsible for keeping Americans healthy and safe. Public health is devoted to preventing disease and injury. If we successfully kept Americans healthier, by investing in ways to prevent diseases in communities—like supporting smoke-free environments, making nutritious foods more affordable and accessible and providing safe places for people to be physically active—we could significantly drive down trips to the doctor’s office and health care costs. In fact, a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health found that investing in prevention can result in significant savings in a short time—$10 per person per year in strategic prevention programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country $16 billion within five years. That’s a return of $5.60 for every $1. Prevention can improve people’s lives, spare millions from needless suffering, and eliminate billions of dollars of unnecessary health care costs.