Every decade, the U.S. Department of Health reassess their health goals based on progress made in the previous decade. The Healthy People objectives first started in the 1970s to promote longer and healthier lives for Americans. Many call their previous efforts a success. With reports of other nations across the globe imitating a similar heath plan.
As 2010 winds down, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced its next set of 10-year goals for improving the nation’s health, including making dents in increasing rates of obesity, smoking and deaths from cancer and heart disease. “The reason for Healthy People is to try to move the nation to better health,” said Carter Blakey, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary at HHS’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “The Healthy People objectives are to some extent a road map for public health, cataloging the places we can and should go over the span of a decade,” added Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.
According to HHS, about 19 percent of the Healthy People 2010 goals were met and progress was made on another 52 percent. However, in some areas, such as obesity, things have gotten worse since 2000. But the Healthy People goals are also, to some degree, aspirational, Katz noted. “Achieving these objectives is dependent both on developing new tools, new programs and new methods, and on turning what we already know into what we routinely do,” he explained. “Heart disease, for example, is widely considered to be all but eradicable with full application of what we know about just three factors: tobacco use, diet and physical activity,” Katz said. “To date, we have failed to achieve fully the aspirations of Healthy People,” he said. “Whether or not 2020 proves different will depend to a lesser degree on the creation of new ways to get there, and to a larger degree on the will to follow paths already open to us.” But Blakey stressed that when goals aren’t met there are a lot of factors that are in play. Not meeting a goal is not seen as a failure, but as an area where more work is needed.
The new goals for 2020 are,
- Reducing obesity 10 percent.
- Cutting the number of smokers by 21 percent.
- Cutting deaths from heart attack 20 percent.
- Cutting cancer deaths 10 percent.
To achieve these and other goals, programs that promote healthy lifestyles and new state regulations will be needed, such as more smoke-free laws, improved children’s school lunches and other programs to fight obesity and reduce the number of new cases of diabetes. The 2020 goals cover almost 600 areas of health, from food poisoning to getting more people insured, to reducing the use of cancer-causing tanning beds and reducing children’s exposure to allergens. Many of the 2020 goals are modest, unlike the loftier goals of other year’s programs.
“That’s a result of a public advisory committee looked at lessons learned from Healthy People 2010,” Blakey said. “The goals for Healthy People 2010 were particularly ambitious and really shot for the stars. The committee wondered whether it was effective to set overly ambitious goals that we knew we couldn’t achieve. The committee recommended that for Healthy People 2020 we set goals that were realistic and achievable.” If a similar process was used for 2010 goals they would have achieved 50 percent of them, Blakey said. For example, in 2000 almost 25 percent of the population was obese and the 2010 goal was to cut that 15 percent. But in 2010, the obesity rate has risen to 34 percent, so the new goal is to cut that by only 10 percent. Also in the past decade, the number of cases of diabetes has been increasing and the number of smokers remains at about 20 percent. On the plus side, Americans are living longer and deaths from heart disease and cancer are dropping. However, much of this appears to be due to better treatment, not to healthier living.
SOURCES: Carter Blakey, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Dec. 2, 2010, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services