Eyes on the Prize: Strategic Plan to reduce, prevent chronic disease.

When I’m contemplating how to achieve a big goal, writing it down helps clarify what I’m really trying to accomplish. Having a long-term plan reminds me of the bigger picture when I get discouraged, and it keeps me from getting distracted by day-to-day duties.

The new strategic plan released by the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention (HPCDP) section of the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division is a great example of what I mean.

I like strategic plans because they keep a complex organization like ours focused only on the work that will get us closer to our goals. Reducing chronic disease in a state of 4.2 million people is really hard work. Getting it done takes many people and partners throughout Oregon chipping away at the challenges, every day. A strategic plan helps us mark our progress and improve our methods as we go along. It also helps us say “no” to efforts that detract from our mission. And at HPCDP, our plans deliver results that matter.

Driven by previous strategic plans, we’ve reduced commercial tobacco use among adults and youth, the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon. Twenty years ago, who would’ve thought that smoke-free restaurants and bars would one day be the law in our state? Now, partly because of HPCDP’s strategic efforts, they are. We’ve also upped the percentage of Oregon adults who’ve been screened for colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death but one we can prevent through regular screening.

There are four leading preventable risk factors behind the still-rising rates of chronic disease. Our new plan identifies goals for reducing these risk factors and chronic diseases by 2025:

  • Tobacco use: Decrease cigarette smoking among youth and adults and decrease annual per capita cigarette sales.
  • Physical inactivity: Lower the percentage of youth and adults who engage in little to no physical activity.
  • Poor nutrition: Reduce the percentage of people who consume seven or more sugary drinks each week.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Decrease heavy and binge drinking among adults and youth and decrease total per capita alcohol consumption.

How will all of this happen?

Four out of five Oregon adults have a risk factor, including those listed above, for chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, addiction and arthritis. With a ratio like that, it’s clear we have a systemic battle on our hands. We won’t improve the health of our state simply by urging individuals to make healthier choices.

Instead, our strategies aim to reduce these risk factors with actions at the community level that:

  • Increase Oregonians’ access to the options they need to live healthful lives
  • Decrease the availability and excessive marketing of harmful products

HPCDP’s strategic plan was designed to help us talk with communities, tribes and other partners about why we’ve chosen our specific goals and the steps we can all take together, in every Oregon community, to achieve them. Working with these partners, we focus resources on evidence-based strategies that have been proven to improve health at a population level. We equip partners with the data, guidance and support they need to prioritize the health challenges in their communities and to determine when and how to take action.

Our strategies are rooted in the reality that for each person, our place matters to our health. This notion of place isn’t limited to our physical environments – our homes, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. It includes the social conditions that shape our lives, like different education and income levels, and the discrimination and racism we do (or don’t) encounter. Your “place” in Oregon can make it harder or easier to access the nutritious food, safe housing, physical activity and health care that we all need to live a healthful life.

As our plan illustrates in detail, some obstacles to a healthy life are baked into our society. These barriers are much higher for some communities than others, leaving certain populations in Oregon much worse off. HPCDP’s goals and objectives focus on increasing the opportunities for all Oregonians – no matter who they are or where they reside in our state – to be healthful in the communities where they live, work, learn, play and age.

For example, think about what’s for sale in your community– at gas stations, convenience stores and other retailers. Think about the good stuff that may not be available (like fresh produce) and the unhealthy, in some cases deadly, stuff that is not only abundant, but cheap and aggressively marketed to you and the kids in your neighborhood (like tobacco products, alcohol and sugar-laden drinks). This retail environment is often more harmful to people’s health in lower-income communities and communities of color compared to more affluent, predominantly white areas. Yet for the most part, the retail environment’s negative influence on our collective health goes unnoticed, a fact the tobacco, alcohol and soda industries don’t mind one bit.

In every section of the new HPCDP Strategic Plan, you’ll learn about the specific steps we are taking to help Oregonians make the retail environment – and all of our places – more healthful for children and adults. I think you’ll discover that everyone has a role to play to improve health in Oregon, whether you’re in government, public health, health systems, businesses, schools or community organizations. You can plan on it.

Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below.

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