Jim Kling

October 28, 2016

DENVER — Ensuring the right to health will be the theme of the upcoming American Public Health Association (APHA) 2016 Annual Meeting.

"We have huge differences in health outcomes based on race, based on geography, based on gender. We know that your ZIP code can be a manifestation of your health in this country," said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the APHA.

"Here in Washington, DC, we can have 10-year differences in mortality in the space of 25 miles," he told Medscape Medical News.

Such differences can be reflected in behavior, such as smoking and exercise habits, and in access to healthcare and related services, education, housing, and transportation.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has accentuated health inequities, said Tom Quade, MPH, public health commissioner of Marion County, Ohio, and incoming APHA president. "There are things we've conceptually talked about, but they've really come to fruition this year. It's really happening," he explained.

The crisis is an example of the impact the nation's aging infrastructure can have on public health.

 
The last 8 years were about insurance reform. The next 8 years need to be around public health reform. Dr Georges Benjamin
 

"We often talk about bridges and sidewalks and how those represent risks for injury and are barriers to physical activity, but the pipes through which the water flows haven't been a topic of conversation until this year," Quade told Medscape Medical News. "Now that we have some concrete things we can tie it to, the conversation will really evolve. I'm looking forward to that."

The upcoming presidential election is on the minds of many public health researchers. "There will be a lot of discussion at the meeting about where we take the nation in the next administration," Dr Benjamin reported.

"How do we advance initiatives around climate change, public health, and population health? I've been saying for some time that the last 8 years were about insurance reform. The next 8 years need to be around public health reform," he said.

Other issues that will garner attention include recent public health crises in the Unites States, such as the Zika virus outbreaks. Representatives from Harris County, Texas, will discuss their experiences and challenges conducting almost 600 Zika investigations.

Among the more than 1000 concurrent sessions will be research showing that children who witness violence or are sexually abused are more likely to inject drugs as adults and that college athletes report fewer symptoms to physicians.

The seventieth anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be marked by a panel of the current and former surgeons general, who will talk about the agency's history and accomplishments.

The role of big data in public health will also be discussed. There are many opportunities to use analytics to improve public health, but efforts are hampered by the availability and timeliness of data. "Most organizations make data-driven decisions on the spot because they have current, active data. We get a lot of data, but it's always old," Dr Benjamin explained.

Dr Benjamin and Tom Quade have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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