National Health Promotion Summit

Apr 12, 2012, 7:52 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

“If we really want to improve health in this country, we need to prevent people from getting sick in the first place — to stop the illness before it starts." That was the closing message of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin's remarks on the final day of the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit, held April 10 through April 11 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The summit was hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, along with the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research. It included multiple panels and sessions, addressing everything from the impact of community health workers to innovation in community health assessment.

The summit’s ultimate goal was to discuss “national disease prevention and health promotion initiatives,” so the attendees could learn about what was happening around the country, then take those public health lessons home to their own communities. From there, policymakers, health professionals, consumer groups and other organizations can work together to build healthy environments that will help produce healthy individuals.

The best way to advance public health is to create environments, policies and systems where healthy choices are possible, according to Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of the Trust for America's Health. This evidence-based approach leads to more resilient communities that can address multiple health issues.

“We have to stop thinking about creating health one person at a time — it’s inefficient and it’s ineffective,” said Jeff Levi. “We have to be thinking about creating healthy communities.”

Benjamin pointed to the National Prevention Strategy, released in June 2011, as a framework for making these goals into realities.

Health Inequity

Of course, not every community is the same. One of the Wednesday sessions, Policy for Change: A Focus on Health Inequity, looked at how different communities have their own unique obstacles to good public health.

For example, Elizabeth Cohn, RN, DNSc of Columbia University’s School of Nursing and Patricia Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, were working to educate women on the symptoms of heart attacks. According to Butts, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women; the dangers are even more profound for African-American women. Their efforts with individuals, health care providers and communities emphasize early recognition and treatment.

Corey B. Smith, PhD, of the Northern Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board, discussed the difficulties of addressing public health in the 18 Northern Plains Tribal nations and communities. He said data gaps contribute to health inequity for Native Americans, as they are inadequately represented in national surveys and other data sources; the sample size is relatively small; and the complication of racial misclassifications. The end result is limited local data.

Also on the panel were Rev. Gale Sampson-Lee, MPH, National Director of Affiliate Services for the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, and Stephen Verderber, Clemson University’s School of Architecture.

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