Five years ago, Prevention Institute pressed for comprehensive federal policy on prevention. We said that health and wellbeing was everybody's business-that every sector, every department, needed to be thinking about health. People shook their heads no, saying that people outside of healthcare just wouldn't be interested, that they have their own agendas, and health is just a distraction. Last week, I joined a room full of people-including representatives from state and local governments, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Defense, and businesses like IBM-who proved those naysayers wrong, with the release of the National Prevention Strategy.
This was a historic occasion. For the first time the nation has delineated a broad, coherent approach to prevention, and made it clear that prevention is critical for improving our health. For too long, when people talk about health or healthcare, what comes to mind instead is illness. The Surgeon General herself said yesterday, "[As doctors] our biggest challenge is changing the way we think about health in this country." But as the Strategy makes clear, prevention can save lives, reduce the demand on health care services, build equity and save money.
What is impressive about the Strategy is its far-reaching nature. It was shaped by seventeen different agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Trade commission and the Department of Agriculture. Virtually every department in government is working together to focus on how to achieve health and wellbeing for the people in every US community. Prevention isn't just for the ‘worried well'. It's the science and the practice and the moral commitment to make sure every workplace is safe and productive, every child has access to parks and safe places to play, and we all can have healthy food at every single meal--all of the things every sector can do, in twos and threes and in a group of seventeen, to create solutions that are safer, healthier, bigger and better than what they could have done on their own.
The Strategy reflects that disease is not the only threat we can reduce. We must decrease injuries, by making our streets and roads safe, reducing falls, and through the prevention of violence. We were honored that our UNITY initiative to prevent violence (UNITY) was highlighted during yesterday's event. Violence and fear of violence affect our well-being in so many ways, from whether we are physically active to whether our schools are safe conducive places to learn to whether we have vital neighborhoods to invest and shop in. And the Strategy should be applauded for its emphasis on equity, including the elimination of health disparities as one of the four pillars that should underpin every prevention effort.
The National Prevention Strategy is careful, in a time of controversy about healthcare approaches, in emphasizing approaches that have been thoroughly studied and carefully documented. Neighborhoods can build on these approaches: by trusting in the wisdom of practitioners, and the wisdom of communities we will see even more momentum behind prevention. We get the real returns on prevention not just by grasping for the low-hanging fruit and the winnable battles but by using the heft of new political will to tackle the really hard issues and the places where need is greatest.
The current funding for prevention is historic, but it is still not near enough to meet communities' need. We need a game changer, where the ‘dose' of prevention is great enough to reduce the demands on health services in every community. And, there have been substantive cuts in other parts of health and vital community services that support wellbeing and health. In locale after locale people willing to invest in prevention and create the innovative solutions and partnerships that will save lives and money down the road, will be distracted by hard short-term decisions about cutback and cost-savings. As groups compete for too-limited prevention dollars this year, we need to make sure that a far greater proportion of prevention funding is available to communities, starting with next year's one billion allocation-what community doesn't need to reduce their heart disease and cancer rates, their violence, teen pregnancy and substance abuse rates?
The blueprint is there, the ideas are there, but we must work together to make sure that the National Prevention Strategy doesn't languish on a shelf or get sliced out of future budgets. As one of the earliest implemented (and most popular) parts of the Affordable Care Act, prevention funding has already been targeted, unsuccessfully, for cuts. Yet, we know that prevention works. We've cut smoking rates in half in California since I helped with the nation's first multicity no smoking ban a generation ago. We have moved from less than 1 in 4 parents buckling their kids into car seats to nearly universal use with infants, and dramatic improvements in their safety since we passed child passenger laws about that same time. As Lisa Jackson of the EPA reported at the strategy's release, the implementation of the Clean Air Act has saved thousands of lives and twenty trillion dollars.
The National Prevention Strategy enables us to come together, as advocates, healthcare practitioners and community members. By doing so, we can not only ensure its implementation, but that it is strengthened as time goes on. We now have a sense of direction. We applaud those who created it and in every community, there are people, businesses, community and religious institutions, schools ready to step forward and put prevention to work. Dr. Benjamin said yesterday, "We must get to a place where everyone understands that everything we do, even those things not labeled as health, link to our health." The National Prevention Strategy is a key step to making that happen.