Feature

Each day 3,000 Americans die from causes that could have been prevented by lifestyle changes such as exercise, good nutrition, alcohol and tobacco avoidance, healthy relationships and psychological well-being, according to Michael O'Donnell, PhD, president and founder of the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP).

Health promotion is the science of helping people make such changes in their lifestyles to improve their overall health and quality of life. Health-promotion efforts also aim to reduce medical costs and increase productivity. Because psychologists play a major role in helping people change unhealthy behaviors, APA co-sponsored--for the second year in a row--the AJHP "Art and Science of Health Promotion: Transforming the Vision into Reality" conference, held Feb. 17-21 in Washington, D.C.

"Health promotion, as it relates to treatment, is largely an untapped area for psychologists," says Lisa Osborn, PsyD, assistant executive director for corporate relations and business development for APA's Practice Directorate. "APA is involved in the conference to help inform psychologists about the need for health promotion and ways to become involved with it in their practices."

Other conference sponsors included the American Public Health Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the Wellness Councils of America and the Institute for Health and Productivity Management.

In addition to nurses, business people, physicians, public health administrators and nutritionists, many psychologists attended and contributed to the conference. To name a few, psychologists Mary Banks Gregerson, PhD, Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Jesse Gruman, PhD, and Robert Fazio--a psychology graduate student--shared how they have started foundations to bolster the goals of health promotion in the session, "Realizing visions in psychology health promotion: both art and science."

Also, Geoffrey Reed, PhD, assistant executive director for professional development in APA's Practice Directorate, presented on the financial impact of stress management. He explored the implications of a study APA conducted with James Blumenthal, PhD, from Duke University Medical Center, on interventions for patients with coronary artery disease. And, at two separate sessions, psychologists James Prochaska, PhD, and Theresa Moyers, PhD, shared insights on using the transtheoretical model and motivational interviewing for behavior change.

"Because our profession has so much to contribute, other disciplines involved in health promotion see psychology's participation as key to making health promotion a national priority," says Osborn.

The conference brings various health disciplines together to "create a world in which healthy lifestyles are encouraged and reinforced in all settings and where health-promotion concepts are integrated into all health professions," said O'Donnell at the start of the conference. As evidenced by Americans' problems with obesity and a medical care system that ranks 24th in the world despite spending that almost doubles that of any other nation, the time for better health promotion is now, and there's broad support, according to O'Donnell.

One well-known supporter of health promotion is former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD. He was the conference keynote speaker and the recipient of the annual Robert F. Allen Symbol of HOPE (Helping Other People through Empowerment) award. The award honors the late psychologist Robert F. Allen's commitment to serving underserved communities and promoting cultural diversity within health promotion and is funded by the California Wellness Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In his keynote address, Satcher talked about his continuing dedication to increasing the years and quality of healthy life for Americans and eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. During his tenure as surgeon general, he released reports on tobacco and health, mental health, youth violence prevention, suicide prevention, race and ethnicity, responsible sexual behavior, and obesity.

He touched on some of the leading factors that determine health, developed under his tenure in the Healthy People 2010 program--a public health prevention and treatment initiative--such as access to care, environmental quality, injury and violence, and mental health. Speaking specifically about mental health, he said, "This area still needs a lot of attention. Still, many insurers don't cover it. Hopefully the Domenici [Mental Health Parity] bill will pass, and that will make a tremendous difference in the health system."

Satcher also described some of the barriers to health care--such as being "under- or uninsured, underserved, uninspired, untrusting, uninformed and underrepresented." These barriers, he said, have an impact on mental health, especially. As an example, he noted that, "African-American men are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia but less likely to be diagnosed with depression."

Echoing O'Donnell's call to the many disciplines involved in health promotion, Satcher said, "We need to figure out what works. I think we're making progress. But the gap between what we know and what we do is wide."