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Public Health Priorities for Next President and Congress

If you had an opportunity to include public health priorities in the next president’s inaugural or State of the Union address, what would they be? Building healthier communities and increasing investments in public health research to understand the root causes of health challenges were among the recommendations of panelists at a town hall moderated by Research!America president and CEO Mary Woolley at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting on Monday, October 31.

The presidential candidates are interested in improving our nation’s infrastructure but they’re not thinking about the health infrastructure, noted Julie Gerberding, M.D., MPH, executive vice president for strategic communications, global public policy and population health, Merck and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If we’re going to rebuild our roads and bridges and train tracks, it would be fantastic if they leverage those investments” and ensure that we’re also building bike paths, new playgrounds and environments that help people make healthy choices, she added.

Rob Youle, former board chair, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said policymakers can determine ways to “multi-purpose” infrastructure investments to channel more funding to biomedical research. “We spend less than one-tenth of one-percent [of the federal budget] funding biomedical research. There has never been a better time to make investments in that kind of infrastructure because the promise right now for biomedical research is enormous,” he said.

A greater understanding of the social determinants of health would help address health inequities and shape policies to improve access to safe and affordable housing, added David Goff, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Dean, Colorado School of Public Health.  “We’re investing heavily in genomics and personalized medicine but we need to complement that with investments in public health research.”

Morgan McCloskey, MPH, project coordinator, health, wellness and fitness, Colorado State University said federal funding supports work at low-income preschool centers in Colorado to help children develop healthy eating and physical activity habits, as part of anti-obesity interventions. “The grant allows us to work with families to determine their needs and expand access to healthy environments for underserved communities,” she noted.

To view a video of the full panel discussion, click here.