Last week, 13,000 public health professionals convened at the 143rd annual APHA conference in Chicago, Illinois. This year’s focus on Generation Public Health addressed America’s poor showing in health outcomes and life expectancy through social justice, prevention, and policy.
The annual meeting kicked off with an opening session featuring PreventObesity.net Leader and APHA President Shiriki Kumanyika, who urged all public health professionals and advocates to create the healthiest nation, and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who echoed the call for attendees to inform and inspire others to improve the health of all communities across the nation.
Throughout the conference, the pivotal theme of social justice was woven into sessions and meetings. Health Equity Partnerships Manager for Voices for Healthy Kids and PreventObesity,net Leader, Jennifer White, presented on health disparities found in communities of color in her session, “Childhood Obesity and Health Equity. Applying a lens of Targeted Universalism to Youth Obesity Policy and Advocacy efforts.”
“Health equity is rooted in facts, not based on how we feel. The fact is that our nation is becoming more diverse and communities of color are growing steadily. To avoid perpetuating disparities and inequities, our policies must be intentional about how we are addressing the root causes of inequities and preparing for the future,” said White.
Social justice and policy are essential elements of public health. Voices for Healthy Kids Policy Research Manager and PreventObesity.net Leader, Isabelle Gerard, conducts message research to help advocacy campaigns effectively form policies targeting the most at-risk communities. Her presentation, “Voices for Healthy Kids: Findings from Opinion Research on Obesity,” highlighted key opinion research findings on obesity-related issues.
“Public opinion research guides our work in public policy change by helping us to best understand how the public thinks about, talks about, and processes information related to our issues. Using the right messages allows us to effectively engage with advocates, build momentum, and broaden support towards improved health for all communities,” said Gerard.
The conference concluded with a powerful session from Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We want to ensure the conditions in which people can be healthy,” said DeSalvo. She reinforced the current movement to focus more on ZIP codes, rather than genetic codes.
“To be effective in improving the health of our communities, we’re focusing on the environments that limit access to healthy, affordable foods, lack safe places for physical activity, and promote unhealthy food marketing to the most vulnerable: our children,’ said Voices for Healthy Kids Executive Director and Leader, Jill Birnbaum, who lead a session, “Youth, Adolescent, and Teen Health: Relevance in Health and Health in All Policies,” during the meeting.
Social justice, prevention, and policy are all key factors in a “health-in-all-policies” approach to public health and are essential for reaching the APHA goal of creating the healthiest nation in one generation. This year’s conference was a success in advancing the dedicated work involved.