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January 2011

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NIEHS helps launch Healthy People 2020

By Matt Goad
January 2011

Healthy People 2020 logo -

(Logo courtesy of HHS)

Bill Jirles

Jirles represented NIEHS on Healthy People 2010 and 2020. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, M.D.

Koh oversees 14 core public health offices and serves as senior public health advisor to the Secretary of HHS. (Photo courtesy of HHS)

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's (HHS) Healthy People initiative looks to its third decade of striving for a society in which all people live long, healthy lives, it turns to the latest means of communication to get out its message.

On Dec.2, Healthy People 2020( Exit NIEHS kicked off with a live webcast and a coinciding Twitter discussion, putting a greater emphasis on new technologies to educate a broader audience about a range of health topics, including the role of environment factors.

NIEHS takes part in the initiative as the co-lead agency on the Environmental Health( Exit NIEHS topic area and is one of three National Institutes of Health (NIH) agencies leading the Respiratory Diseases( Exit NIEHS topic area. Both of these topic areas have a clear relationship to the NIEHS mission. For example, the Environmental Health topic area has objectives that span topics ranging from healthy homes and communities to global health.  

The NIEHS representative for Healthy People, Program Analyst Bill Jirles of the Institute's Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, said the Web and cell phones would make the project more accessible and more responsive to the public.

"Previously organizers provided big books that contained the Healthy People objectives, which were hundreds of pages in length," Jirles explained.

Healthy People 2020 will rely instead on its Website( Exit NIEHS to carry that information.

"This iteration will be a lot more dynamic," Jirles continued. "It will be easier to make changes throughout the process since the objectives are all Internet-based, rather than making official changes every few years. Now we'll be able to make official updates to the objectives on the Web pages in a fraction of the time."

Since 1990, when work began on Healthy People 2000, the Healthy People initiative has looked to improve the nation's health by working across HHS agencies to identify nationwide health improvement priorities and taking action to strengthen policies and improve practices that address those priorities.

"It's been something that NIEHS and NIH have supported for a long time," Jirles said.

For the third iteration, Healthy People 2020, the project identified 42 topic areas( Exit NIEHS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will track progress on these 42 topic areas as the decade progresses.

Another emphasis this time around, according to Jirles, is reaching people who don't have access to the Internet at home, reaching them instead through schools, community organizations, workplaces, libraries, senior centers, hospitals and other central locations. Also employed was the social networking site Twitter, which those without home computers can access through cell phones.

Initial feedback from lower-income communities shows efforts to reach them have improved with the 2020 initiative, according to Jirles.

Helping announce Healthy People 2020 at the Dec. 2 gathering at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services was HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, M.D.( Exit NIEHS, who called Healthy People 2020 "a momentous effort for the next decade."

(Matt Goad is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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