Two members of the House of Representatives have formed the Congressional Health and Behavior Caucus to highlight the role of behavior in health. The caucus will serve as a resource for Congress to explain how behavioral research findings improve health and quality of life.
The two founding members, psychologist Brian Baird (DWash.) and social worker Edolphus Towns (DN.Y.), assert that "this is truly a caucus whose time has come."
As evidence, the congressmen cite an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, "Promoting Health: Intervention Strategies from Social and Behavioral Research," which focused on how social and behavioral factors influence health and disease at various stages of the life cycle. "By itself...biomedical research cannot address the most significant challenges to improve the public's health," the report concluded. "Behavioral and social interventions, therefore, offer great promise to reduce disease morbidity and mortality, but as yet, their potential to improve the public's health has been relatively poorly tapped."
The need for further research and public awareness is evident, the congressmen say, in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's finding that six of the 10 leading causes of death (diet, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, smoking, violence and accidents) are behaviorally based.
But while making this case for behavioral health on Capitol Hill, advocates have faced a serious hurdle: "The medical model is so salient that people don't understand that there are behavioral issues underpinning it," says Lori Valencia Greene, senior legislative and federal affairs officer in APA's Public Policy Office (PPO).
In response, the Health and Behavior Caucus will inform Congress on behavioral component of health by concentrating on educational activities that address current issues, such as racial and ethnic health disparities.
For example, the caucus could conduct briefings on IOM health reports, which address the significance of health and behavioral science.
"These reports can be very useful in shaping policy when policy-makers hear about them," says PPO Senior Science Policy Analyst Patricia Kobor. In addition, caucus members could provide research findings or possibly arrange a tour of the National Institutes of Health to give members of Congress and their staff a first-hand look.
And by disseminating information, the new Health and Behavior Caucus has the potential to be an influential force in policy decisions that benefit behavioral health.
"PPO will be working with Congressmen Baird and Towns to assist in the development of the caucus's agenda for the 107th Congress and to educate members of Congress and their staff about the role of behavior in health," says Valencia-Greene, who suggested the formation of the caucus to Towns's and Baird's staff members.