Epidemiology, Public Health and Public Policy

Alexander D. Langmuir Lecture

James S. Marks, M.D., senior vice president and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Group, presented the Alexander Langmuir lecture at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, Ga., on April 22, 2009.

Marks emphasized the need to “embrace the space between activism and social change as central to public health,” adding that the “central purpose of epidemiology is to find, assess, and confirm truth, regardless of past findings or past beliefs.”

Epidemiologists need to present and frame health information for the public, and are often the “key authoritative voices,” according to Marks. He discussed the role of the epidemiologist as one to “measure aspects of health, identify differences worthy of note and concern, and draw attention to them” which affords a great opportunity for epidemiologists to “affect the national debate about health.” Marks stressed that political leaders, when thinking about major program or policy needs, need to think about public health’s role and how it plays in to their goals for their jurisdiction.

Furthermore, during his remarks, Marks emphasized the need for social justice in public health and the importance of reducing or eliminating disparity.