Healthy People 2020: Definition & Objectives

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

It's well known that health is important, but how can a country promote health for its people? Healthy People 2020 is an initiative promoting national health in the USA. This lesson will look into how it was developed, what its objectives are, and how you can find information on the website.

What Is Healthy People 2020?

We have a health crisis in the United States, but how do we educate people to empower them to reverse the downward spiral we're already in? Healthy People 2020 is an initiative built upon over 30 years of science and effort, and it represents the fifth iteration of this program.

Healthy People 2020 is the fifth iteration of this program.
healthy people logo

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services coordinated the development of Healthy People 2020, but they used the best available current knowledge to formulate objectives and focus areas. Overall, the initiative provides a broad set of objectives to target both disease prevention and improved health. Every 10 years, the initiative is reviewed and adjusted to meet current needs - Healthy People 2020 is already out and being used, but advisory board members are already being recruited for Healthy People 2030.

Goals and Focus Areas

Healthy People 2020 has a handful of broad goals:

  1. Address the social determinants of health
  2. Eliminate health disparities
  3. Improve access to quality health care
  4. Improve public health services
  5. Improve the dissemination of health information to the public

Within these goals, over 1200 objectives have been identified. Though these objectives are broad and cover a range of topics across the spectrum of health, each objective has a baseline measurement from a reliable source, as well as a target improvement to be achieved by 2020.

Additionally, 26 Leading Health Indicators (LHIs) were added to Healthy People 2020. These represent a subset of high-priority issues that cause significant public health threats. These LHIs are grouped into 12 areas and are meant to be used to motivate actions at the national, state, and local levels.

When objectives were being developed, nine criteria were considered.

  1. Results should be important and easily interpreted by a broad audience
  2. Objectives should seek to prevent further health problems, and should address health improvements with their actions
  3. Objectives should be backed by actions that increase the likelihood of meeting said objective
  4. They should reflect issues of national importance
  5. They should be measurable
  6. If possible, objectives should carry over from one Healthy People initiative to the next - for example, objectives from Healthy People 2010 should be included in Healthy People 2020 if they are still applicable
  7. They should be supported by the best available science
  8. They should address population disparities, such as those due to race, gender, socioeconomic status, disability status, sexual orientation, and geographic location
  9. Only the best and most reliable data should be included in objective development

Example of One Topic

You can go to the Healthy People 2020 webpage for more details, but there are a number of topics to choose from. Each topic is broad and includes an overview of why it's relevant to the Healthy People 2020 initiative, the specific objectives related to the topic, and a list of resources for more information.

For example, one topic you can choose is Environmental Health. Obviously this is a pretty broad term, but if you click on the topic, a new page with more information appears. Here, you can read the overall goal of Environmental Health: promote health for all through a healthy environment.

If you keep reading, you'll see a section explaining why environmental health is so important to humans. Within Healthy People 2020 Environmental Health, there are objectives that cover 6 focus areas: outdoor air quality, surface and ground water quality, toxic substances and hazardous wastes, homes and communities, infrastructure and surveillance, and global environmental health.

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