Healthy People’ unveil new initiative for general populations, businesses

Goals include longer, healthier lives, elimination of ethnic disparities

The latest "Healthy People" initiative, Healthy People 2010, which was unveiled in January, has as its overriding goals increasing the quality and years of healthy life, and the elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in health status. In addition, it unveils a new national health assessment tool it calls "Leading Health Indicators," which Healthy People’s objectives target. Those indicators include:

• physical activity;

• overweight and obesity;

• tobacco use;

• substance abuse;

• mental health;

• injury and violence;

• environmental quality;

• immunization;

• responsible sexual behavior;

• access to health care

Healthy People is "a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative that brings together national, state, and local government agencies; nonprofit, voluntary, and professional organizations; businesses; communities; and individuals to improve the health of all Americans, eliminate disparities in health, and improve years and quality of healthy life," according to the Healthy People Web site, www.health.gov/healthypeople.

Since its inception in 1979, Healthy People has been coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).

Healthy People 2010 marks the third time HHS has developed 10-year health objectives for the nation. It is the result of a broad consultation process that included the public, health experts, and the Healthy People Consortium, a public/private alliance of over 350 national organizations and 270 state agencies.

An overwhelming’ initiative

What do corporations think of Healthy People 2010? "My initial reaction was that I was overwhelmed," says Lauren R. Leifer, president of Compdisk, a Morton Grove, IL-based full-service media replication fulfillment house. "I was thrilled to see as many issues as were on the table that they were attempting to address."

Leifer currently serves as the head of the Healthy People Business Advisory Council (HPBAC), which includes health promotion professionals from leading organizations such as Dow Chemical, Union Pacific Railroad, and Honeywell. (A full listing of HPBAC members can be found on p. 39.)

Leifer also notes that getting hold of the information available from Healthy People is no longer as "overwhelming" as it once was. "Through technology, and the ability to slice and dice’ objectives, anyone can go to the list of objectives and find areas of specific interest to them and follow up," she explains. "Historically, because there had been such a dearth of objectives it was difficult to embrace. If you get into [the Web site] now, you can access want you want effectively — not only the power’ user but the casual user, as well."

To some, it may appear that the goals and objectives of Healthy People are too broad to have meaning on the corporate level, but Leifer disagrees. "I have a take on this as it relates to business — particularly small and mid-sized businesses," she says. "We are a small company of under 50 employees. I am a woman business owner, in business for 30 years. I’ve lived through a lot of changes as they relate to health in the workplace, health at home, working moms, grandparents, and parental leave. What really excited me about Healthy People 2010 is that it keys into issues that women business owners address all the time.

"As women, we are nurturers, the support element. We make family compromises; we’re the negotiators. We know that if we don’t see to it that our people get to work we won’t get it done. I would like to think that most women see business as an extension of who they are; business is not considered war, but an opportunity to partner, to serve others, and to make money doing it."

With Healthy People 2010, she sees "an opportunity to cross-pollinate between the public and private sectors in a very exciting way. We all know we will have major changes in the working population over the next 10 years, and we are the ones who can address them and bring the cream’ to the top. Folks who historically have been on the bottom are going into reverse roles."

Eventually, says Leifer, even though it’s important for Fortune 1000 companies to model those changes, "it’s really important to have smaller companies involved."

Leifer also sees women playing a critical role in this evolution. "Today, one of every four employees in the United States is employed by a woman-owned business," she notes. "Woman-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses are growing exponentially. And we have long memories; we will not become oppressors, but rather build along the partnering model."

Addressing ethnic and racial disparities and increasing the length and quality of life are also "the overarching goals of Healthy People," notes Matthew Guidry, PhD, senior advisor to ODPHP’s director. ODPHP’s mission is to promote initiatives that will help to prevent disease and promote health in a wide variety of agencies, organizations, and communities.

"We felt that in order to develop a conceptual structure we needed several components — overarching goals — which were very specific, and which could be achieved through 28 focus areas and 467 specific objectives. If we can achieve those, we should have a very healthy nation," says Guidry.

These objectives were "derived through a developmental and consensus process," notes Guidry, whose agency serves as the manager/administrator of Healthy People. "We coordinate every aspect of Healthy People, including the writing. We have 28 agencies, each of which is a lead agency for a specific focus area. For example, The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] are lead agencies for physical fitness."

Using indicators as guidelines

The leading health indicators were developed to give both public and private organizations a hook’ on which to hang their health hats, Leifer explains.

"We had to pick 10 out of 500 some-odd [indicators]," she notes. "We got pretty generic, but the idea was, how do we stimulate as many people as possible without driving them nuts? We needed to have a hook, and we felt those 10 would hook enough people so they would stop, look, think, and implement. If we said, Here are 100 points we want you to embrace,’ nothing was going to happen."

Guidry agrees. "We developed these leading health indicators because we felt people wanted something more composite," he explains. "These were the ones we thought would be most important to achieve, and that everyone to could subscribe to. People who want to broaden their efforts could go to all 467 objectives."

"There are also a number of objectives in Healthy People 2000 specific to employers," adds Pam Witting, of Honeywell Corp. in Phoenix, and another HPBAC member. Those objectives, she notes, are:

• reducing tobacco use among adults;

• decreasing lost productivity in the workplace due to alcohol and drug use;

• increasing the proportion of people who engage in regular physical exercise;

• increasing the proportion of adults at recommended body weight;

• reducing deaths from work-related injuries;

• reducing work-related injuries that result in medical treatment, lost time from work, or restricted work activity;

• reducing levels of indoor allergens;

• increasing the proportion of people with health insurance;

• increasing the proportion of insured patients with coverage for clinical preventive services;

• increasing the number of employees whose mental health care benefits are equivalent to their physical health care coverage.

Why should corporations care?

Why should corporations support the Healthy People initiatives? "It just makes good sense," says Leifer. "Today, with the working population so limited and such low unemployment, how do we entice employees, retain employees, and bring the quality of life to the table that they want if we’re not a huge company? We need to bring something to the table that makes them want to work for us."

"I think the basic issue is this: If we can come up with a structure that not only public but corporate America can subscribe to, we will have a more focused approach, and eliminate conflicting objectives," says Guidry. "Companies can use the Healthy People objectives as a means of shaping corporate health promotion policies. By looking through the objectives and identifying areas they would like to use to shape those policies, they have an opportunity to benefit. In addition, the health promotion director can pick specific objectives out and enhance and reinforce them. This way, they can achieve not only corporate health promotion objectives, but the objectives of creating a healthier work force, as well as a healthier nation."

It is the wellness professional’s responsibility to have a productive work force, Leifer adds. "The more preventive you become in your perspective, whether through screenings, exercise or smoking cessation programs, you have the potential for a more productive work force. In addition, I know many people who stayed at large companies because they had a cafeteria’ of health programs available."

Individual employees will also benefit, says Leifer. "On one level, a personal level for any of these individuals, Healthy People makes perfectly good sense — like saving the earth for our children and grandchildren," she asserts. "If they are looking for something in their lives that is meaningful, then embracing it allows them to make a mark within their corporation and impact the lives of many people. Even after an aggravating day at work, they can go home and know they did something good."

We are the world . . .

It’s important, says Leifer, for wellness professionals take a more global approach to health promotion. "This gets back to the haves’ and the have nots,’ and the digital divide,’" she explains. "This [uneven access to health care] is another divide, and the two are connected. Look what’s going on in Brazil; you have a huge population of illiterate, uneducated people, which creates the environment of a dominator’ society. Here, we are working very diligently to build more of a partner’ society."

This is not, she insists, a "bleeding heart" issue. "If we don’t pay attention to the have-nots, they will overrun the haves," she predicts. "So, it is very self-serving to have a healthy population. When kids go to preschool or school, who gets their colds? Not just the poor kid, but everybody. But if everyone learns to wash their hands constantly during the day, we’ll all have fewer colds, less flu, and fewer moms and dads getting sick and passing it on to their companies."

Unfortunately, says Guidry, corporate support is not what it could be. "We have a major concern here as it relates to Healthy People visibility in the corporate sector," he admits, noting that the HPBAC was specifically developed to enhance awareness. "We have 49 states have that have used Healthy People as a means of shaping policy, but not nearly that level in the corporate sector."

Guidry encourages health promotion professionals to write, e-mail, or call ODPHD for consultation on how to move forward with Healthy People initiatives in their workplace.

"Another thing we’re looking for is people whose companies have good health promotion models to become involved," says Leifer. "We’d love to receive White Papers from them."

Lauren R. Leifer, Compdisk, 6228 Oakton St., Morton Grove, IL 60053. Telephone: (847) 965-8400. Fax: (847) 965-8426. E-mail: lauren@compdiskinc.com.

Matthew Guidry, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 200 Independence Ave. S.W., Room 729G, Washington, DC 20201. Telephone: (202) 401-7780. Fax: (202) 205-9478.