Jun 14 2012
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National Prevention Council Action Plan: Q&A with Mayra Alvarez

S. Mayra Alvarez Mayra Alvarez, HHS

The Surgeon General yesterday released the National Prevention Council Action Plan, which is the next step in the federal implementation of the National Prevention Strategy, released last year by the National Prevention Council. The Council is comprised of 17 federal departments and agencies. According to the office of the Surgeon General, the Action Plan complements prevention and wellness efforts already underway by the federal government, states, tribal and local governments, health care systems, businesses, communities, nonprofit organizations and other groups.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Mayra Alvarez, MPH, director of public health policy in the Office of Health Reform, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about the Action Plan’s release.

NPH: How does the National Prevention Strategy tie together efforts to create healthier communities?

Mayra Alvarez: The National Prevention Strategy really is the first-ever national blueprint for improving the health of all Americans. What we’re trying to do is move our system from a focus on sickness or disease to one that concentrates on wellness and prevention. The Action Plan specifically talks about what steps the federal government is taking to implement the Strategy, but it also identifies opportunities for cross-sector collaboration between us, the federal government, as well as businesses, state and local governments, schools, health systems, community groups and people themselves to promote healthier communities. We know that health is impacted by where we learn, live, work, play and pray and really the best strategy to promote healthy communities is those that focus on all aspects of people’s lives. It’s really a both ends approach, when it comes to promoting the health and well being of Americans.

When we think about what a healthy community looks like, we know we want communities that promote the health of Americans. The National Prevention Strategy allowed us to hone in on what that is supposed to look like by outlining important strategic directions, such as:

  • How do we make sure we have safe community environments so our kids can play outside and know that it is safe for them to do so?
  • How do we ensure access to clinical and community services so Americans are aware of what services are recommended for them, and they can be on top of their health status?
  • How do we make sure we have empowered people who have the information they need to make healthy choices?
  • And how do we focus on eliminating health disparities, so that we’re improving the quality of life for all Americans?

Those are strategic directions, and now we’re excited that the Action Plan is outlining the items that the federal government is pursuing to implement the National Prevention Strategy.

NewPublicHealth: What new initiatives are described in the Action Plan, and how do they build on the cross-sector collaboration framework established by the National Prevention Council?

Mayra Alvarez: The release of the National Prevention Council Action plan is an opportunity to promote the prevention and well being of Americans’ health across the country. The Action Plan defines over 200 steps that all seventeen federal departments that comprise the National Prevention Council are taking to help make our society healthier.

Each of the departments are committing to certain action items to implement the National Prevention Strategy to insure that prevention is a part of their programs and policies, now and in the future. But in addition to the 200 individual department actions, we are announcing a new commitment to three over-arching areas:

  • Increasing tobacco-free environments
  • Increasing access to healthy, affordable foods
  • Finding opportunities within the departments to incorporate prevention and health

These three overarching goals really will target the leading causes of death and ensure that our policies and programs are promoting the health and well being of Americans.

NPH: How can communities and health organizations reach out to other stakeholders in transportation, housing, education and other areas to form the kind of broad-based coalitions and partnerships needed to implement the National Prevention Strategy?

Mayra Alvarez: Cross-sector collaboration and partnerships are so important. We’ve made clear that it’s not a federal strategy, it‘s a national strategy, and as such really does incorporate the responsibilities that fall to the federal government as well as to our partners on the ground—states, communities, religious institutions, schools and community groups—organizations that really impact the health and well being of Americans on a day to day basis.

When we talk about looking for opportunities to non-traditional but very important players in health and wellness, such as transportation, housing, education and business, we need to really figure out how they can draw the links to health and well being. One opportunity is our investment in workplace wellness programs. Americans spend hours at their workplace, and a growing number of corporations are prioritizing the health and well being of their workers.

Not only is it an investment in the wellbeing of their workforce, it’s also an investment in economic well being of their business. And we’re trying to make that a reality by providing resources on the ground to businesses across the country. The Department of Labor for example, is training more than 1.5 million workers on preventing health hazards in the workplace.

Engagement is widespread. Each of the departments that make up the National Prevention Council is reaching out to various sectors to prioritize prevention and health because when it comes to the health and well of Americans, it’s not just the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services, but of all of us.

Tags: National Prevention Strategy, Partnerships, Prevention, Q&A