Date:  June 21, 2011




Government Should Consider Public Health Implications Of All Major Legislation; Decades-Old Health Laws Need To Be Revised


WASHINGTON — Because strong evidence indicates that policies beyond the health sector have substantial effects on people’s health, all levels of U.S. government should adopt a structured approach to considering the health effects of any major legislation or regulation, says a new report by the Institute of Medicine.  In addition, federal and state policymakers should review and revise public health laws so that they adequately address current health challenges. 


”The law has been an essential factor for improving the public’s health through policies such as decreasing tobacco use, increasing road safety, and ensuring the greater healthfulness of our food and water,” said Marthe Gold, chair of the committee that wrote the report and Arthur C. Logan Professor and Chair of Community Health and Social Medicine, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, City College of New York, New York City.  “Our report recommends several actions that will ensure that federal, state, and local public health agencies make full use of a broad array of proven legal tools that can improve population health.


Policies and regulations that lie outside the health sector can have a significant impact on people’s health, including, for example, government agricultural subsidies that influence the availability and affordability of certain foods, zoning policies that create green space, and education policies that support intellectual and physical growth of America’s youth.  The report recommends that laws and policies that cross sectors be examined critically for potential positive and negative effects on public health. To address these concerns, government agencies should collaborate to anticipate and evaluate the health effects of major legislation.  And because private-sector actions can also have major impacts on the public’s health, state and local governments should form health councils to engage other public agencies and private and nonprofit stakeholders in community health improvement plans.


The report says that many public health statutes defining the roles and authorities of government health agencies have not been updated in decades and lack specific power to address current needs.  Public health laws need to provide health agencies the authority to address concerns such as obesity and other chronic diseases, injuries, substance abuse, immunization registries, and surveillance systems that could help detect bioterrorist attacks or disease outbreaks. 


States should also require health agencies to provide 10 Essential Public Health Services as the standard of practice and make certain that adequate funding and staffing are in place to provide these services, the report says.  Previously developed by a consortium of public health groups, the list of services includes basic functions such as monitoring the health status of communities, diagnosing and investigating community health hazards, mobilizing community action, enforcing laws that protect health, and evaluating population-based services.  State laws also should require public health accreditation to ensure a uniform standard of public health practice, says the report, and every health agency should have adequate access to attorneys with public health expertise.


Whenever possible, federal and state governments should set minimum public health standards and develop regulations to allow lower levels of government to enact further restrictions when necessary.  For example, the Affordable Care Act requires calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus but prevents states and localities from enacting stricter regulations than the federal government in the area of menu labeling.


The report, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is the second in a series on public health strategies to improve health.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Molly Galvin, Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Additional resources:

Report in Brief

Project Website


Pre-publication copies of For the Public’s Health:  Revitalizing Law and Policy to Meet New Challenges are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice


Committee on Public Health Strategies to Improve Health

Marthe R. Gold, M.D., M.P.H. (chair)
Arthur C. Logan Professor and Chair
Department of Community Health and Social Medicine
City University of New York Medical School
New York City

Steven M. Teutsch, M.D., M.P.H.  (vice chair)
Chief Science Officer
Los Angeles County Public Health
Los Angeles

Leslie Beitsch, M.D., J.D.
Center for Medicine and Public Health
Florida State University College of Medicine

Joyce D. Essien, M.D.,  M.B.A. 
Center for Public Health Practice
Rollins School of Public Health

Emory University

David W. Fleming, M.D.
Department of Public Health
Seattle and King County


Thomas Getzen, Ph.D.
Professor of Risk, Insurance, and Healthcare Management
Fox School of Business
Temple University


Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D.
Professor of Public Health
Johns Hopkins University;

Linda and Timothy O'Neill 

Professor of Global Health Law
Georgetown University; and
O'Neill Institute on National and Global Health Law
Georgetown University Law Center
Washington, D.C.

George J. Isham, M.Sc., M.D.
Medical Director and Chief Health Officer
HealthPartners Inc.
Bloomington, Minn.


Robert M. Kaplan, Ph.D.
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and
Office of the Director
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Md.

Wilfredo Lopez, J.D.
Current Counsel Emeritus
New York City Department of Health
Elmont, N.Y.

Glen P. Mays, Ph.D.
Inaugural Associate Professor and Associate Professor
Department of Health Policy and Management
College of Public Health
University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences
Little Rock

Phyllis D. Meadows, Ph.D., M.S.N., R.N.
Associate Director
Office of Public Health Practice
Department of Health Management and Policy
University of Michigan School of Public Health
Ann Arbor

Mary Mincer Hansen, Ph.D., R.N.
Associate Professor
M.P.H. Program and Global Health Department
Des Moines University
Des Moines, Iowa


Poki S. Namkung, M.D., M.P.H.
Health Officer
Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency
Santa Cruz, Calif.

Margaret E. O'Kane, M.S.


National Committee for Quality Assurance

Washington, D.C.


David A. Ross, Sc.D.


Public Health Informatics Institute

Decatur, Ga.


Martin Jose Sepulveda, M.D., M.P.H.

Vice President for Integrated Health Services

International Business Machines Corp.

Somers, N.Y.


Steven H. Woolf, M.D., M.P.H.

Executive Director

Center on Human Needs, and

Professor of Family Medicine, Epidemiology, and Community Health

Virginia Commonwealth University





Alina Baciu, PhD, MPH
Study Director