National Prevention Strategy and Smart Growth

Feb 3, 2012, 3:54 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy provides a new, health-in-all policies approach to prevention, requiring the efforts of many federal agencies (17 to be exact) and other stakeholders. Good community design, with sidewalks, adequate lighting and traffic-slowing devices, improves the walkability of communities and promotes physical activity. Increasing access to healthy, affordable food options provides people with the opportunity to make healthy choices about what they eat.

The Strategy launched in June 2010, as a product of the National Prevention Council, a body of 17 federal departments that for the first time have been mandated to find opportunities for collaboration and coordination around prevention, health and wellness.

At this week’s New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, Corinne Graffunder, Director of the National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with colleagues from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)participated in a panel to discuss their respective roles in the National Prevention Strategy – and how the Strategy intersects with smart growth principles.

>>Follow our coverage of the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, from a public health perspective, here.

“This is meant to be more than just a document,” said Graffunder. “The Council is an ongoing leadership body that will continue to figure out how to make this work.”

Graffunder also emphasized that it is the National Prevention Strategy—not a federal strategy. That means it recognizes the critical role of partners beyond the government, from the business, non-profit and state and local government sectors.

Joani Walsh, Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs, ran through USDA’s priorities and initiatives in relation to prevention:

  • Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act—for the first time in over 30 years, this act give USDA the opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs for the nearly 32 million kids who eat school lunch each day.
  • 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—in June 2011, USDA and HHS launched the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans based on the latest science on nutrition. They also launched MyPlate to give consumers the tools to personalize their approach to a healthy diet. The website received more than 7 million visits in 2011.
  • Healthier US School Challenge—more than 2,100 schools have voluntarily made improvements to make schools healthier places for children.
  • Improving access to affordable foods in food deserts—recent years have marked the first coordinated federal efforts to expand access to healthy foods, including expanding agriculture, and supporting the spread of healthy corner stores and farmers’ markets where they’re needed. Interactive food desert mapping tools and more resources can be found here.
  • Healthy Food Financing Initiative—USDA, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Treasury, will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion, and other programs designed to create healthy food options in food deserts across the country through community development institutions.

Kathy Sykes, Senior Advisor on the Aging Initiative at the Office of Research and Development at the EPA, revealed a potentially little-known fact about the agency—its mission is to impact both the environment and the public’s health. EPA efforts often focus on setting standards to protect public health, including air quality.

She said EPA is often tapped for support for health impact assessments, which enable groups to intentionally think about health when making changes to the local and built environment. EPA has been able to help determine health impacts of decisions like building a school where land is cheap but houses are far away, precluding the ability for kids to walk to schools.

“We have more equity and consensus-building when we involve all the partners who are going to be impacted from the beginning,” said Sykes.

One example Sykes described was a community that looked at idling buses at schools—both a waste of resources and,  when they idle with engines on, a source of pollution and an asthma trigger for children. The community decided to put those idle buses to use to help get seniors to farmers’ markets in the middle of the day—a win-win for all involved.

Shelley Poticha, Director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at HUD, talked about the far-reaching effects of housing. “When you choose a home, you don’t just choose a housing unit, you’re choosing a whole neighborhood and a lifestyle,” said Poticha. “Your zip code can determine your health outcomes.” But not everyone has the ability to choose the kind of housing and neighborhood that would set them up for better outcomes and quality of life.

HUD’s priorities include:

  • Using housing as a platform to improve community health
  • Create inclusive and sustainable communities, free from discrimination
  • Getting “the UD back in HUD”—thinking more about whole communities, beyond the housing unit itself

The Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, for example, offers planning grants to bring together a cross-sector consortium to collectively plan for better communities, using livability principles such as more transportation choices, equitable and affordable housing and enhancing economic competitiveness.

Ultimately, said Poticha, EPA is concerned with the question of, “How can we make sure we’re not in the way, and how can we be better partners and planners for healthier, more sustainable communities.”

>>Read more on health impact assessments.

>>Read our earlier Q&A with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin on the National Prevention Strategy.

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