Day Five of National Public Health Week coincides with Public Health Student Day, celebrated every Friday of NPHW to galvanize the public health workforce of tomorrow. On March 11 the George Washington University, located just blocks away from APHA headquarters in Washington, D.C., received three gifts totaling $80 million to its renamed Milken Institute School of Public Health, or Milken Institute SPH, the largest donation ever received by the university.

Milken Institute SPH Dean Lynn Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, spoke to APHA about how the donations cultivate a more prepared workforce, the school’s vision for a healthier future and what Friday’s theme, “Be the healthiest nation in one generation,” means at the Milken Institute SPH.

The George Washington University recently received major gifts that will be used to target some of the world’s most daunting health challenges. Can you tell us more about these gifts and how they will be used to improve public health?

The donations, from the Milken Institute, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation and the Milken Family Foundation, will be used to find solutions for public health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions that sicken millions of people every year.

Along with the gifts, the school adopted a new name: We are now the “Milken Institute School of Public Health.” But our mission to advance innovative strategies aimed at keeping people healthy will be accelerated now with the resources we have at hand. The new donations include $40 million to support education and research, $30 million to establish the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness and $10 million to support the dean’s office and create new public health scholarships.

These significant gifts will allow us to continue to invest in in the kind of innovative research and training for students that can drive rapid improvements in public health.

Lynn Goldman

George Washington University professor Lynn Goldman is the dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Photo by Milken Institute SPH.

This week marks the celebration of National Public Health Week. Today’s theme is: Be the Healthiest Nation in One Generation. What does this theme mean to you?

The United States spends far more on health care than any other country in the world yet we’re struggling with high rates of unhealthy weight gain, an epidemic of diabetes and an environment that makes it hard to stay active. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 35 percent of U.S. adults suffer from obesity, a condition that puts them at risk of serious and costly medical conditions.

We also know that spending just $10 per person per year in proven community-based prevention programs could save the nation an estimated $16 billion annually within five years. The United States now spends just 3 percent of its health care dollars on prevention programs. Experts agree that we need to do better than that: In 2012, an Institute of Medicine report recommended that the U.S. increase federal funding for public health and prevention by $12 billion annually — a doubling of what was spent on these initiatives in 2009. Investing in prevention programs can help create a future where all of us, including our children, can enjoy better health.

For the first time in decades, the current generation isn’t as healthy as the one that came before it. What is your school doing to address this crisis in preventable diseases?

The recent package of gifts to our school came with the opportunity to create the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness. With this center, we expect to look for and develop strategies to push back or prevent diseases and conditions that are often caused by inactivity, an unhealthy diet and environmental factors. High-fat sugary food, pollutants in the environment and other factors that trigger health problems are common in the United States and globally and are affecting our children and even our grandchildren.

I consider just one case of a child who has gained too much weight and developed diabetes in his or her teens a tragedy, and one that could have been averted. Play that out over many, many cases of Type 2 diabetes worldwide and you start to see the scope of what we are up against.

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the rates of childhood obesity are leveling off and may be declining in some parts of the country, but we don’t know why. With the launch of the Redstone Center our faculty, students and scholars will be able to investigate those trends and look for solutions. We will be collaborating with public health researchers from around the country, and worldwide, to bring together all of the research about obesity prevention and identify what works — as well as what doesn’t work.

Today is National Public Health Student Day. Students now working to get a degree in public health are part of the solution for a healthier future. What does the next generation of the public health workforce look like and how is GW at the forefront?

By one estimate more than 250,000 public health workers will be needed by 2020 in order to maintain the public health workforce, which is struggling with shortages today and will be faced with even greater shortfalls as the baby boomers start to retire. Shortages are particularly acute in rural and underserved locations. In addition we need more public health professionals trained in certain specialties and people who can work with diverse cultural communities.

At the Milken Institute School of Public Health we have more than 1,100 students from nearly every state and from 40 nations who are now pursuing degrees in public health. As the only school of public health in the nation’s capital we are training students both in the classroom and out in the world. Our students believe that one person can make a difference. They will become our next set of leaders in public health and will help us build a better world for generations to come.