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Healthy People priorities draw attention to critical health needs: new leading health indicators released.


AIMING TO SOLVE the nation's most pressing health problems, federal health officials have released a list of critical public health priorities that they say demand immediate attention.

Unveiled at APHA's 139th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators are the health priorities that policymakers and public health professionals will use to track progress in local communities as they work toward meeting key national health goals.

"It is a historic day," U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, MD, MPH, said at the APHA event releasing the priorities on Oct. 31. "It's a moment that we celebrate public health in a major way, and also celebrate the fact that we are one society, one community and one nation aligned to make our country stronger and healthier."

The Leading Health Indicators highlight current critical health issues that, if addressed, will reduce some of the leading causes of preventable deaths and major illnesses. The priorities are part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-led Healthy People initiative, which provides a science-based set of national goals and objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Now in its fourth decade, Healthy People is released every 10 years, undergoing updates each time.

"These Leading Health Indicators are meant to drive action for better public health and prioritize key critical areas for collaboration and forward movement," Koh told The Nation's Health. "People can use these indicators to create their own plans at the state and local level. For all of them, we need broad partnerships and true public health leadership that brings in new collaborators."

Selected to communicate high-priority health issues and actions that can be taken to address them, the Leading Health Indicators are organized under 12 topic areas that encompass access to health services; clinical preventive services; environmental quality; injury and violence; maternal, infant and child health; mental health; nutrition, physical activity and obesity; oral health; reproductive and sexual health; social determinants; substance abuse; and tobacco. Some of the topics, including substance abuse and mental health, were also on the list when it was last released a decade ago.

"These indicators can help us overcome health challenges as we track our progress in the coming decade," said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E).

Drawing cheers and applause from the audience, Koh noted that oral health made the list for the first time.

"We are very pleased to have oral health as a Leading Health Indicator," Koh said. "For far too long, this area has been overlooked. We view oral health as essential to overall health."

Social determinants also made the list for the first time. Reflecting a new trend in public health that seeks to include health in all policies, the social determinants topic area will focus on improving high school graduation rates.

"When we focus on education, we are in fact focusing on improving health outcomes," said Gail Christopher, vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The priorities for the next decade were selected with input from scientists, researchers and health professionals in a process similar to the extensive and collaborative efforts used to develop Healthy People 2020. Released in December 2010, Healthy People 2020 includes nearly 600 health objectives--up from 467 in Healthy People 2010.

Assessing the progress of Healthy People 2010, a recent HHS review determined that Americans had met, or were moving toward meeting, 71 percent of the program's 2010 targets, including those associated with reducing deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke.

Released in October, the "Healthy People 2010 Final Review" revealed that the nation met the Healthy People 2010 objectives of reducing cholesterol levels while making minor strides toward reducing smoking rates. As a result, according to the National Vital Statistics System, the U.S. experienced a major drop in deaths from heart disease and strokes over the past decade.

In other good news, the Healthy People 2010 assessment revealed that the nation's overall life expectancy has continued to rise.

"Within the last decade, we actually added one year on to life expectancy for men and women, and that is tremendous when you think of what it takes to improve health," Carter Blakey, acting director of HHS' Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, told The Nation's Health.

According to the assessment, life expectancy at birth has increased from 76.8 years to 77.8 years.

While much progress has been made with regard to most of the 2010 health objectives, the Healthy People 2010 assessment revealed that the nation still comes up short in a number of critical areas, including reducing health disparities and the obesity rate. Over the past decade, health disparities have not changed for about 80 percent of the health objectives and have increased for an additional 13 percent. Moreover, obesity rates increased across all age groups. Among children ages 6-11, obesity rates rose by 54.5 percent, and among adolescents ages 12 to 19, the obesity rate rose 63.6 percent. In addition, the number of adults who are obese rose 48 percent.

The final review provides a scorecard of the nation's progress in the last decade, Blakey said, emphasizing the continuing need for high quality data to measure public health progress and outcomes.

"Healthy People is really data-based and data-driven," said Blakey, who is an APHA member. "Oftentimes, people don't realize how important it is to have data. If you don't have the data you don't know where you need to improve."

To improve data collection, HHS released new survey standards on Oct. 31. Fulfilling a requirement of the 2010 health reform law, the standards more consistently measure race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status.

For more information about Healthy People 2020 and the Leading Health Indicators, visit www.
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Author:Johnson, Teddi Dineley
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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