One-on-one medical care is important, but strong evidence suggests that structured approaches to the nation's laws and regulations hold out the hope of influencing the health of millions.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Public Health Strategies to Improve Health beginning in 2009 to examine three topics in population health: data and measurement, law and policy, and funding. This report marks the second installment in the series.

Among the report's findings and recommendations:

  • Public health statutes should give health agencies the authority to address obesity and other chronic diseases, injury, substance abuse, immunization registries, and surveillance systems to help detect bioterrorist attacks or outbreaks of disease.
  • States should require health agencies to provide 10 essential public health services as the standard of practice, supported with adequate funding and staffing.
  • If and when possible, federal and state governments should establish minimum public health standards and develop regulations allowing for more local government entities to enact further restrictions when necessary.

"The law has been an essential factor for improving the public’s health through policies such as decreasing tobacco use, increasing road safety, and ensuring the greater healthfulness of our food and water,” said Marthe Gold, chair of the committee that wrote the report and Arthur C. Logan Professor and Chair of Community Health and Social Medicine, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, City College of New York, New York City. “Our report recommends several actions that will ensure that federal, state, and local public health agencies make full use of a broad array of proven legal tools that can improve population health.”