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U.S. Government Sets New Health Goals for 2020

THURSDAY Dec. 2, 2010 -- As 2010 winds down, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced its next set of 10-year goals for improving the nation's health.

According to the agency, 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.

"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," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

But they are also, to some degree, aspirational, he added. "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," Katz 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," he said.

"To date, we have failed to achieve fully the aspirations of Healthy People," Katz 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."

Some of 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 lofty goals of other year's programs.

Part of this change appears to be a reaction to the realities of how difficult it is to achieve many of these health goals. For example, in 2000 almost 25 percent of the population was obese. 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.

Healthy People 2020 goals include such areas as:

  • Adolescent Health
  • Blood Disorders and Blood Safety
  • Dementias, including Alzheimer's Disease
  • Early and Middle Childhood
  • Genomics
  • Global Health
  • Health-Related Quality of Life and Well-Being
  • Health Care-associated Infections
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health
  • Older Adults
  • Preparedness
  • Sleep Health
  • Social Determinants of Health

"Too many people are not reaching their full potential for health because of preventable conditions," assistant secretary for health Dr. Howard K. Koh, said in a statement. "Healthy People is the nation's road map and compass for better health, providing our society a vision for improving both the quantity and quality of life for all Americans."

More information

For more information on 2020 goals, visit HealthyPeople.gov.

Posted: December 2010


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