Every ten years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services takes a collaborative approach to aligning health institutions from across the country on massive health goals. The initiative is called “Healthy People” and every decade they invite people from a broad variety of health institutions to collaborate on identifying the most important health goals for the U.S. and to set measurable targets that we can work towards to make improvements.
The goals of the Healthy People initiative are to encourage collaboration across different sectors in healthcare, to provide greater health awareness that can impact individual behavior, and to identify national health improvement priorities with measurable goals and objectives so progress can be tracked.
I love what Healthy People stands for as it is a rare example of what our government should do: bring people together to work towards common goals and facilitate a sense of community that has citizens working together to improve the quality of life for everyone.
In recent decades the Healthy People priorities that have been identified are around increasing the length and quality of human lives by reducing rates of preventable diseases, disability, injury or other causes of premature death. They have also had the goal to diminish the disparity in health across a variety of demographic categories including race and income status.
They recently announced the progress report from the Healthy People 2010 goals (established in the year 2000) and it seems that progress has been made on the first goal, but not on the second. In less than ten years, the average life expectancy in the U.S. has increased by a year and the life expectancy and quality of life have improved for people over 65.
But the average black person still lives 5 years fewer than the average white person, a disparity rate that has not moved in the past decade. In fact, across a variety of health measurements, some of which have improved (such as cancer mortality, coronary heart disease, smoking and blood pressure control) and some of which have worsened (such as adult and child obesity) differential rates of disease across different racial categories persist.
The key takeaways from Healthy People 2010, according to Edward J. Sondik, the Director of the National Center for Health Statistics, is that progress is being made on the major goals of life quality and expectancy, but health disparities persist across the population. He also notes that obesity remains an important challenge to monitor closely and data must be a priority to continue measuring what is working.
It is interesting to note that Healthy People 2020 appears to show a shift towards a more positive approach to health goals. In addition to eliminating disparities and improving life span (primarily through reducing disease,) the HP2020 initiative has added the goal to create social and physical environments that promote good health (spa, anyone?) and the promotion of quality of life, health development and health behaviors across the lifespan, which sounds like a more preventative and positive approach to wellness.
References and recommended reading:
The image for this article is from a slide in the webinar, “Health in the US—A Review of the 21st Century” featuring
Howard Koh, MD MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health
Edward J. Sondik, PhD, Director, National Center for Health Statistics
Jewel Mullen, MD, MPH, MPA, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health
where Dr. Sondik reported the results from Healthy People 2010. Please visit http://www.healthypeople.gov.