I spent an exciting few days in Washington, D.C. last week, at the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) on April 10-11. The Affordable Care Act‘s focus on prevention paired with Healthy People 2020‘s goals and objectives set the stage for national health promotion. During the Summit we discussed programs and policies that align with national prevention initiatives such as the National Prevention Strategy, Let’s Move, the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities and the National HIV/AIDS Prevention Strategy, and ways stakeholders from various disciplines and community roles contribute to achieving Healthy People 2020 goals and objectives.
“Nothing is more important to our country’s future than the health of our people.”
– Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
The Health Summit featured national leaders in public health including keynote speakers U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh. Dr. Benjamin implored us to (like on an airplane) “put your own face mask on yourself before helping others” and above all, to “bring joy back into being healthy.” In other words, we in the public health field should not neglect caring for our own health, and the healthy lifestyle choices we make must be enjoyable and personally meaningful in order to be sustainable. Secretary Sebelius stressed the vital importance of health and said, “health is fundamental to opportunity – the healthier we are, the more freedom we have to pursue dreams and contribute to the community.” However, as Dr. Koh said, “when prevention works, absolutely nothing happens – it’s boring, and you get to enjoy the miracle of a perfectly healthy normal day.” We need to find a way to celebrate victories preventing disease the same way we would celebrate successfully treating disease. Dr. Koh said, “good health is a gift; it’s precious and fragile, we have it today and hope we have it tomorrow.”
While in Washington, D.C., I visited the Martin Luther King Memorial for the first time. In the center of the memorial is a large likeness of Dr. King carved out of stone, and on the walls along the pathway, there are quotes from some of his speeches. One particular quote seemed to perfectly embody the spirit of the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” Dr. King knew that nourishment for body, mind and spirit is essential to well-being and that it is a human right for all people. The new national health promotion initiatives give his vision a concrete direction and establish the collaboration across disciplines necessary to achieve these goals. I am glad to be a part of the diverse team of health professionals and community leaders throughout the nation fighting to establish and implement policies that enable all people to have the opportunity to reach their fullest health potential. Prevention of disease is a long-term and multifactorial undertaking; therefore we must sustain the audacity Dr. King spoke of and the momentum gained from the National Health Promotion Summit in order to move our country forward to a healthy and more vibrant tomorrow.