The National Prevention Strategy: A Q&A with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin

Jun 16, 2011, 9:07 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The National Prevention Strategy was released today. Required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the goal of the Strategy is to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.

The plan includes evidence-based recommendations and was developed by the National Prevention Council, which is composed of 17 federal agencies. NewPublicHealth spoke with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., about the development and implementation of the National Prevention Strategy.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about today’s announcement.

Dr. Regina Benjamin: We’re pretty excited. We’ve been working on this for more than a year, so it’s really good to bring it to the public. It’s our compass to guide us to being a healthier and fit nation.


NPH: How did creating this plan differ from previous efforts on disease and injury prevention?

Dr. Benjamin: Well, this is the first time we’ve ever had this sort of commitment from high level government, focused on prevention and wellness. We have seventeen cabinet-level members who are members of National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council who have been committed and dedicated and actively involved and so this is a truly collaborative effort. And it’s also different because now we are focusing on trying to change our system from a system of sickness and disease to a system of wellness and prevention.

NPH: Will the agency leaders be involved going forward?


Dr. Benjamin: We’ve had meetings with the principles on a quarterly basis and then in between those we’ve had their designees, usually a deputy or assistant deputy, meeting on a monthly and recently weekly basis. We’ll continue going forward using that same, method of having the designees doing the heavy lifting, and having the principles come back and make the ultimate policy-type decisions.

NPH: What new prevention strategies would you point to in the Strategy announced today?

Dr. Benjamin: I’m not sure if we have anything that’s never been tried, but what we do have is putting them all together in a package and saying look at health and wellness in a different way. That everything that we do, everything that we’re a part of in our communities, in our homes, in our job, at our churches, all have to do with health. We’ve never really put it together that way and the way we need to look at health, isn’t just the, the absence of disease. It’s making sure that that community is a healthy community. We haven’t done that in the past.

NPH: Are there ideas that didn’t make it into the plan that might be added in the future?

Dr. Benjamin: It’s a living document. As we get better and as things change and improve, we hope the document can change and improve. Each year we have to give an update and a status report to the president and to members of congress. We hope that this document will change as we grow healthier so that our measures will change. So, for example, if we want to increase the life expectancy of people who live to be 85 and we get there, then we want to increase it to 95. We want to continuously change.

NPH: Who beyond the federal agencies will be involved?

Dr. Benjamin: We want the states, the communities, the cities and tribal organizations to help, as well as the private and business communities and individuals. We want the non-profits, the philanthropic communities to also engage, as well as industry and business . It’s everyone’s responsibility and everyone’s opportunity. We’ve had involvement of hundreds of agencies and organizations and individuals who have been a part of this process because we’ve put out for public comment various iterations and it’s changed along the way over the past year. We’ve gotten so much wonderful feedback and we’ve accepted that feedback, made those changes and so it’s everyone’s document now. And hopefully these individuals, groups, and organizations will go out and make it their own.

Read previous Q&As with newsmakers and difference makers in public health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.