2012 National Health Promotion Summit: Prevention. Promotion. Progress

The National Health Promotion Summit took place this past Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, DC. Participants included government officials, policy makers, educators, students, health promotion advocates, and more.


Tuesday’s opening presentation and keynote address was given by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and focused on the unprecedented focus on prevention efforts in the United States today. Using tobacco control as an example, the secretary highlighted how national efforts and national dialogue are shifting to rethink how we approach health promotion with an increased emphasis on prevention.

The plenary panel of that morning discussed prevention initiatives as they are related to new health care reforms, such as the National Prevention Council, The National Health Service Corps, and the National Public Health Improvement Initiative. The panel mentioned that if the ACA succeeds in expanding health insurance coverage to an estimated 34 million people by 2019, our health care system and safety net will be dramatically altered. As public health professionals, we must be careful about planning interventions and strategies that are flexible to such fast-changing realities.

Drawing on Healthy People 2020, the panel expanded upon Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh’s assertion that we must have “20/20 vision” for the future of health; indeed, we must be able to view public health issues with “3-D glasses” to address the various levels and determinants of health from a sustainable, combined-thinking, systems approach.

The concurrent sessions of the day touched on various advances in the field of health promotion. Speed Share sessions, which comprised 75 minutes of rotating presentations and group discussions, featured such topics as health promotion-based applications of the HITECH Act and EHRs, social marketing tools and strategies, using web-based approaches for health interventions, and more.

A panel session on “Preparing the Workforce for New Public Health” focused on innovations for improved training and education of students in various health fields. During this panel, experts discussed basing coursework on Healthy People and other national health targets, to educate students on current realities and future directions in the field of public health. Panelists also discussed some recent trends in improving medical education and training, such as the interdisciplinary program at Nova Southeastern University that combines a Doctor of Osteopathy program with a Master of Public Health Program. Dual graduates are able to ease some of the dichotomies between the different health professions, and address the deficiencies in public health training identified by many students in medical programs.

New and emerging technologies were an important topic throughout the summit. On Tuesday afternoon, before the luncheon keynote address, awards were distributed to the winners of HHS’s Leading Health Indicators Apps Challenge. Three impressive designs were recognized, all of which will be featured at the June 5th Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C.

The first place winner, Community Commons, was featured in a second-day panel on “New Innovations in Community Health Assessment.” This website uses geospatial mapping to display various types of public health data. There are over 7,000 data layers in their interactive map room. “Making public data publically accessible,” Community Commons uses an online social networking tool to connect users on the site with each other and with various health initiatives around the country. While it’s still in a testing phase, it’s clear why Community Commons was chosen by HHS as a particularly promising tool for displaying health indicator data, and for future use in community health assessments.

Along with Community Commons, The Community Toolbox and NACCHO’s MAPP program were also featured in the innovative assessment session.

The Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, gave the second keynote address on Wednesday morning. In addition to discussing the unprecedented National Prevention Strategy, Dr. Benjamin highlighted the importance of finding joy through health promotion. From zumba to walking events to dance breaks, the Surgeon General showed how she promotes having fun while pursuing optimal health.

Citing a new report on tobacco use, the Surgeon General echoed Secretary Sebelius’ message about the importance of smoking interventions for young people: 99% of first-time smokers are under the age of 25. For every person that dies as a result of smoking, there are 2 new young smokers to replace them- daily. As a result, the Surgeon General’s office has launched a new anti-smoking PSA that is specifically geared towards young people (the Surgeon General herself admitted to the similarities between this PSA and the teen-centric Twilight movies).

A second plenary panel on Wednesday discussed practical applications of the National Prevention Strategy, with a main focus on the co-benefits of a systems approach to creating holistic, integrated, and sustainable communities. The intersection of policy, community development, and public health was a major talking point here, as representatives from Sonoma County Department of Health, the US Department of Defense, and the Kresge Foundation discussed economics, social determinants of health, and various on-the-ground initiatives which were reflective of the National Prevention Strategy already working around the country. A fourth panelist, from Australia’s Gus Nossal Institute, commended the U.S. on the global implications of the US strategy. He mentioned that in addition to universal access to health care, all people are entitled to universal access to prevention.

Finally, Leon Andrews, a senior fellow with the National League of Cities, gave the closing speech late Wednesday morning. He discussed how various cities around the world are considering and re-considering their health initiatives, highlighting the changing culture and dialogue around childhood obesity over the last 10 years. In 1991, obesity was seen largely as an individual issue. Now, in 2012, as peak obesity rates in some states are over 30% of the population, the National League of Cities has designed a policy-centered childhood obesity initiative, in partnership with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Towns and Cities initiative to combat the growing epidemic.

As the various speakers and presenters highlighted throughout the summit, the landscape of public health is constantly changing. A central theme to the summit was being able to look forward to the future of health in the United States. There are countless opportunities and challenges ahead, and we would be wise to remain flexible in our approach, keep an eye on emerging innovations, and be willing to constantly evaluate our efforts in promoting health in the U.S.

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