Nearly 12,000 public health experts who gathered in Denver recently for the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting faced – and explored – a daunting task: improving the health of Americans.

An achievable goal

“Since this Association was founded in 1872, we've believed that health is a fundamental right. Tragically a lot of people don't understand that, of course, until they get sick,” APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, said. “So we want to make a big point about that: We’re not the healthiest nation. We're all working to do that. It's an achievable goal, we just have to dig in our heels.”

Centered on the theme “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health,” the meeting focused on the steps the U.S. must take in order to give everyone the opportunity to achieve the highest level of health. The theme references what public health experts hope will be a national shift toward health equity, which involves valuing all people equally, promoting prevention and zeroing in on the social determinants of health.

Research topics released to coincide with the meeting covered how:

  • children who witness violence or are sexually abused are more likely to inject drugs as adults;
  • perceptions of tap water quality are linked to PTSD in Flint, Michigan, residents;
  • baby and toddler food advertising promotes manufactured foods over healthier options;
  • nearly 600 Zika investigations forced Harris County Public Health to ad-lib;
  • a sports injury app detects 99 percent more health conditions or college athletes than traditional sports medicine surveillance;
  • state policies will determine whether or not most Americans smoke marijuana; and
  • a Rhode Island law loophole allows domestic abusers to keep firearms, despite the risks.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper threw down a challenge during his speech at the meeting, proclaiming his goal to make his state the healthiest in the U.S. (By at least one reckoning, Colorado is in track to do that. The state ranks lowest in obesity nationwide, at 20.2 percent, compared with Louisiana’s 36.2 percent. Obesity is associated with a number of serious health problems.)

Video of the opening session on APHA Live.

APHA adopted 11 new policy statements during the meeting. Those statements, adopted by the Association’s Governing Council, cover public health topics from raising the minimum wage to achieving an HIV/AIDS-free generation to improving transgender health.