STEPS TO A HEALTHIERUS
Steps to a HealthierUS (Steps) is a major initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that advances President George W. Bush’s HealthierUS goal of helping Americans live longer, better and healthier lives. Recognizing that the United States is facing several serious public health challenges, Secretary Tommy G. Thompson launched Steps to a HealthierUS in 2003. At the heart of this program lie both personal responsibility for the choices Americans make and social responsibility to ensure that policy makers support programs that foster healthy behaviors and prevent disease. The Steps initiative envisions a healthy, strong U.S. population supported by a health care system in which diseases are prevented when possible, controlled when necessary, and treated when appropriate. This initiative is a shift in the traditional approach to the health of our citizens, moving us from a disease care system to a health care system.
Realizing that small changes over time can yield dramatic results, the Steps initiative is committed to identifying and promoting programs that encourage small behavior changes. With a strong emphasis on proven interventions and existing science, Steps will promote the following:
- Health promotion programs to motivate and support responsible health choices.
- Community initiatives to promote and enable healthy choices.
- Health care and insurance systems that put prevention first by reducing risk factors and complications of chronic disease.
- State and Federal policies that invest in the promise of prevention for all Americans.
- Cooperation among policy makers, local health agencies, and the public to invest in disease prevention instead of spending our resources to treat diseases after they occur.
The goal of the Steps initiative is to reverse the growth in the number of people suffering from chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as factors that contribute to them such as obesity, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and tobacco use. The intent of Steps is to reach the broadest number of Americans by using multiple approaches and involving groups and organizations to foster health, physical activity and good nutrition. To date, these approaches have focused on communities, businesses and organizations, and the actions that they can take to influence individuals’ choices and actions to improve health. The Steps initiative has multiple components including:
- Grants to Communities: As the cornerstone of the Steps initiative, in 2004, HHS funded 22 cooperative agreements to 40 communities for a total of $35.7 million to establish community-wide partnerships to improve the health and well being of individuals by encouraging people to maintain physically active lifestyles and make healthy lifestyle choices.
- Grant to a National Organization: In FY 2004, HHS awarded a $2 million grant to the national office of the YMCA. With more than 2,500 YMCA’s in the country, this funding will help strengthen the network of local YMCA chapters by developing and implementing strategies to work together with the 40 Steps grant communities also funded in 2004.
- Roundtable Discussions: The Secretary hosted a series of Roundtable discussions, which brought together interested stakeholders including academia, insurers, business executives, health care providers, and researchers. The purpose of these roundtables was to highlight the importance of prevention and specifically discuss best approaches to stem the tide of chronic diseases and encourage healthy lifestyles - regular physical activity and balanced diets. The roundtables also identified obstacles to adopting healthy habits.
- Secretary’s Challenge--Steps to a HealthierHHS: This is an HHS worksite health promotion program encouraging Department employees to become more physically active. This voluntary initiative promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by challenging employees to be on the move—at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks. Nearly 800 employees participated, and 25 percent completed the pilot program in the Washington, DC, area.
- Annual Prevention Summit: Held on April 15-16, 2003 in Baltimore, Maryland, the inaugural Steps to a HealthierUS: Putting Prevention First Summit focused attention on the urgency of prevention and on promising approaches for tackling key challenges. At this conference, the Secretary laid out his priorities and programs for Steps to a HealthierUS. The second annual summit was held on April 29-30, 2004, in Baltimore, Maryland. Future summits are planned.
- Annual Awards for Innovation: Another component of the Steps initiative is the Steps Innovation in Prevention Awards Program. In December 2003, HHS awarded the first set of eight Steps Innovation Awards in seven categories, to groups and organizations recognizing their accomplishments and highlighting the concrete health improvements that each has achieved. The second round of awards will be announced in December 2004.
- Partnerships: Another aspect of the Steps initiative is the partnerships program where HHS seeks to work with other public and private sector organizations to support and promote healthier living. It is designed to encourage innovative opportunities to promote healthier living and prevent chronic diseases and conditions.
- Secretarial Workgroups and the Blueprint for Action: Recognizing the importance of many chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma, the Secretary established five senior staff workgroups on specific areas that were identified as presenting particular opportunities for cross-Departmental coordination and that are central to advancing health promotion and disease prevention: overweight and obesity, diabetes, tobacco, media and messages, and health literacy. This work provided the basis for the Secretary’s Prevention: A Blueprint for Action released in April of 2004. This Blueprint outlines simple action steps to guide individuals in their quest for healthier lifestyles. It also encourages other interested parties and organizations, such as providers, employers, communities, insurers, media, schools, and government to collaborate and cooperate to overcome obstacles, to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce the burden of chronic diseases.
More information about Steps to a HealthierUS is available at: http://www.healthierus.gov/steps.