From Our 2011 Archives

U.S. Sets New Goals for a Healthier Nation

Health and Human Services Department Reveals Blueprint to Make Americans Healthier by 2020

By Salynn Boyles
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 31, 2011 -- Federal officials today released a list of critical health priorities for the coming decade designed to serve as a blueprint to help make the nation healthier by 2020.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the first time listed improving oral health and high school graduation rates as important goals for achieving better health among Americans.

The priority goals have been identified by federal officials to help reach the Healthy People 2020 objective of improving the health of all Americans.

Health Improvements Over the Last Decade

In a presentation delivered in Washington D.C. on Monday, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, noted that over the previous decade the average life expectancy of Americans has increased from 77 years to 78 years.

Koh made the remarks at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

He noted that three out of four health objectives identified by health officials to be met by 2010 were either met or substantial progress was made toward meeting them.

"We saw death rates decline for many of the major killers in our society including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer," he said. "We saw death rates from coronary heart disease and stroke decline and we saw some reductions in disparities in areas such as immunization and sexually-transmitted diseases."

Blueprint for Better Health

Koh says the goals identified Monday will help health policy makers at the federal, state, and community level make priorities for the coming decade.

At the top of the list is expanding access to medical care and increasing the number of Americans with their own primary care provider.

Other goals for 2020 include:

  • Increasing the percentage of eligible Americans who are screened for colorectal cancer from the current 54% to 70% and the percentage of eligible women who have mammograms from 70% to 77%.
  • Increasing the percentage of people with high blood pressure and diabetes whose conditions are adequately controlled with medication.
  • Increasing the percentage of young teens who receive booster doses of the tetanus-diphtheria-accellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine from 47% to 80% and increasing the vaccination rate with two doses of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine in this age group from 37% to 90%.
  • Increasing the number of Americans who see a dentist regularly to around 49%, from a current rate of about 44%.

Role of Education

For the first time the goals include a section identifying social factors that help determine health, such as education.

A major goal is to increase the percentage of students who graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years from around 75% to 82% by 2020.

The move was made in recognition of the fact that higher education is closely linked to better health, Cater Blakey, of the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, tells WebMD.

Blakey says there is much optimism that the enactment of the national health reform law will help health officials meet the main health care objectives outlined Monday.

"It has renewed interest and heightened awareness about disease prevention," she says.

At the presentation Monday, Gail Christopher, DN, who is vice president for health of the children's health research group W.K. Kellogg Foundation, talked about the importance of education on health.

"When we focus on education we are, in fact, focusing on improving health outcomes," she said. "The question becomes 'How do we close achievement gaps and ensure optimal education for everyone?"

She said improving graduation rates starts even before a child is born, by making sure that mothers-to-be have opportunities for prenatal care.

Christopher said improving young children's opportunities to learn, especially in low-income areas, is key to achieving the education outcome.

"The possibility of achieving success in school is almost determined by the third grade, so we have to look at the intersection between low income and poverty and education," she said.

"When so many of our children are being born into low-income families and communities which further compromises their access to education and to situations that appropriately stimulate and motivate them, we know we have some work to do."

SOURCES: American Public Health Association annual meeting, Oct. 31, 2011, Washington D.C.Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health, Health and Human Services.Gail Christopher, DN, vice president for health, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.Carter Blakey, office of disease prevention and health promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.News release, Health and Human Services.

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