Environmental Factor, December 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Deputy Surgeon General presents National Prevention Strategy
By Ashley Godfrey
Appointed U.S. Deputy Surgeon General in 2010, Lushniak began his talk by commenting on the incredible diversity of public health programs at NIEHS and congratulating the Institute on a job well done. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
U.S. Deputy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Boris Lushniak, M.D., visited NIEHS Nov. 2 to present the National Prevention Strategy, a comprehensive plan to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. Lushniak is an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, which includes more than 6,500 active duty public health professionals.
“It was an honor to have Rear Adm. Lushniak visit NIEHS and RTP,” explained NIEHS Chief of Staff Cmdr. Paul Jung, M.D., also an officer in the USPHS. “His visit is timely, as prevention and public health will be prominent in our Institute's upcoming strategic plan.”
Looking at the big picture of public health
In his talk, Lushniak explained the importance of prevention in the public health model. Typically there is a causal pathway that leads to disease and a place in that pathway where public health professionals can intervene to ensure that the endpoints, disease or injury, are never reached. One key issue is how to get the public involved.
“We have to be able to educate our citizens,” stressed Lushniak. “It is not just an issue of health disparity or health literacy, but it is imperative to get each individual involved in their own health and in taking responsibility for the decisions they make.”
According to Lushniak, another cornerstone for prevention activities is the use of public health surveillance, to include the ongoing systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of health related data. He also described the importance of creating an information loop of public health surveillance, and making sure the information collected is directly connected to the people who are responsible for implementing prevention and control.
“We need to not just identify the problem, but what are we going to do about it,” explained Lushniak.
Changing our focus to prevention
Called for under the Affordable Care Act, the National Prevention Strategy was put together by the National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council (National Prevention Council) and released in June 2011. The Council is composed of 17 federal agencies and is chaired by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
The plan's vision is “Working together to improve the health and quality of life for individuals, families, and communities, by moving the nation from a focus on sickness and disease to one based on prevention and wellness.”
“Do we have a healthcare system or a sick care system?” asked Lushniak, who pointed out that 18-20 percent of our gross domestic product goes to health care. Lushniak maintained that our focus needs to be on prevention, instead of only treating the end result.
Getting to the next step
“The easy part [of creating the National Prevention Strategy] is over,” concluded Lushniak. He identified that implementing the strategy will be a much bigger task, especially in difficult fiscal times. One of the strategy's objectives is to provide recommendations, and also outline a way to divide up actions between private and public partners. Lushniak explained that these partners can then work together to help implement the strategy at the national, state, tribal, and local levels.
(Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis.)
Key elements of the National Prevention Strategy
The National Prevention Strategy identifies four Strategic Directions and seven targeted Priorities. The Strategic Directions provide a strong foundation for all of the nation's prevention efforts and include core recommendations necessary to build a more prevention-oriented society.
The Strategic Directions are:
- Healthy and Safe Community Environments: Create, sustain, and recognize communities that promote health and wellness through prevention.
- Clinical and Community Preventive Services: Ensure that prevention-focused health care and community prevention efforts are available, integrated, and mutually reinforcing.
- Empowered People: Support people in making healthy choices.
- Elimination of Health Disparities: Eliminate disparities, improving the quality of life for all Americans.
The seven Priorities are:
- Tobacco Free Living
- Preventing Drug Abuse and Excessive Alcohol Use
- Healthy Eating
- Active Living
- Injury and Violence Free Living
- Reproductive and Sexual Health
- Mental and Emotional Well-Being
More information about the National Prevention Strategy and the National Prevention Council can be found at: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/prevention/strategy/index.html(http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/prevention/strategy/index.html)