Healthy People 2020 Adds 12 Topic Areas

Stacy CollinsNASW’s Stacy Collins: “For the first time ... Healthy People now includes national health goals and objectives” on dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

Social work played a role in the development of the Healthy People 2020 objectives, which were released in a final report in December.

NASW submitted comments for the objectives during its drafting stages. The efforts of NASW and others in the geriatric health community resulted in a new topic area being added to the final version: “Dementias, Including Alzheimer’s Disease,” noted Stacy Collins, NASW senior practice associate.

Healthy People is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that, according to its website, “provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans.”

“NASW and other organizations were concerned about the growing public health danger Alzheimer’s disease and dementia posed to the nation and we advocated for its inclusion,” Collins said. “For the first time since its inception in 1979, Healthy People now includes national health goals and objectives related to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

She added, “NASW members have a front-line view of the nation’s most pressing health issues. This new topic area is a good case in point. Social workers understand the toll that dementia takes on individuals, families and society.”

Collins said that inclusion of social work perspectives in the development of the Healthy People objectives insures that attention to the social determinants of health — a critical component of health status — is reflected in the final set of objectives.

In addition to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, there are 12 other new topic areas in Healthy People 2020, including older adults; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health; adolescent health; global health; and preparedness.

Every 10 years, HHS collects scientific insight from the past decade and combines that information with current data, trends and innovations.

“Healthy People 2020 is leading the way to achieve increased quality and years of healthy life and the elimination of health disparities,” according to

Besides establishing national health objectives, the report outlines data and tools to assist states, cities, communities and individuals to combine their efforts to achieve the goals.

In January, NASW issued a practice perspective on Healthy People 2020. Written by Collins, it notes that social work values are embedded in the objectives.

Collins explained that Healthy People 2020 has the potential to strengthen social work practice by targeting programs and resources to areas of greatest need.

It offers social workers the opportunity to assume leadership roles in achieving the 600 objectives and 1,300 measures at the local, state and federal levels.

The practice perspective outlines several ways social workers can use the objectives to help their communities attain high-quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury and premature death.

Social workers can also use the objectives to inspire community action with the help of policy and decision-makers as well as business and community members.

In addition, the objectives can be used to develop research and programming priorities, Collins explained.

NASW will continue to play an active role in the Healthy People National Consortium, a group of agencies and organizations committed to achieving the goals and objectives, she said.

“The objectives will serve as a benchmark for many focus areas within NASW, including access to health services, older adults, mental health, diabetes, cancer, dementias, substance abuse, global health and LGBT health issues,” she said.


Social Workers Key to Objectives Development

The social work perspective was integral to the development of the Healthy People 2020 objectives.

“It was important to have social work representation in the development of the objectives, because social workers are some of the strongest advocates for improving health status by addressing the underlying social and environmental determinants of health,” said Stacy Collins, the NASW senior practice associate who authored NASW’s practice perspective on the topic.

One of the highest-ranking social workers in the U.S. Public Health Service has direct responsibility for the Healthy People initiative. Penelope Slade-Sawyer, deputy assistant secretary for health, disease prevention and health promotion, manages the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the federal agency that coordinates Healthy People 2020. Slade-Sawyer is a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

The team charged with developing the 2020 objectives, the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives, also included a social worker: Eva Moya, assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences at University of Texas at El Paso.

In a January NASW practice perspective on the Healthy People 2020 report, Moya stated, “Healthy People and the social work profession both stress the need to move beyond a focus on controlling disease to addressing factors that are the root causes of disease, disability and continuing health inequity in the United States.”

She went on to say that social work values were embedded in the Healthy People 2020 initiative, particularly as they relate to social work’s understanding of family, social economic and environmental factors as determinants of health and well-being across the life cycle.