There is no silver prevention pill, Kathleen Sebelius told a group of public health workers Tuesday, but there are concrete steps Americans can take to improve their health and their quality of life, and the Obama administration is committed to that effort.
Sebelius, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was a keynote speaker at the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit, which kicked off Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The summit, which was also sponsored by the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research, was an opportunity for public health professionals to talk about what works.
Sebelius focused much of her keynote address on tobacco use, noting that it’s been nearly 50 years since the first surgeon general’s report on the dangers of cigarette smoking.
“The work we’ve done since then to reducing smoking rates is one of the great health triumphs,” she said.
But after years of decline, the smoking rate has stalled, and for every person who dies of smoking-related causes, two young people take up the habit.
The good news, she said, is that we know what works. New anti-tobacco legislation, smoke-free laws and tobacco cessation programs are important, she said, and we must continue to fund them despite budget shortfalls.
She noted, too, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new graphic anti-smoking television ads are already making a difference.
“In the week after the campaign went on the air, the number of calls to the national quit line more than doubled,” she said.
During a plenary panel later Tuesday morning, panelists discussed, among other things, what fundamental changes would make it easier for Americans to be healthy.
APHA’s executive director Georges Benjamin, suggested education would help “move the needle” on health.
“I’d spend every dime we have on improving the education system,” he said, because education helps people move out of poverty.
Mayra Alvarez, director of public health policy in the Office of Health Reform at HHS, agreed and built on that idea, suggesting that empowerment of the individual is key.
“I think people are hungry for information,” she said.
The conference also included interactive “speed share” sessions, in which 10 speakers stationed around a large room spoke to small groups for a few minutes on a variety of topics, including health information technology, rural health programs, reducing health disparities and health literacy programs.
At one speed share, Carlos Devia, program manager for research and evaluation at Bronx Health Reach, focused on a partnership between medical and faith-based groups to improve diabetes outcomes in the Bronx. By seeking out diabetes patients in church and encouraging them to participate, the program was able to reach people in a place where they already go. A pilot program using nurses who also attended the churches to lead discussions and encourage health behavior, showed improvement in participants’ blood pressure and is poised to expand, Devia said.