Good health is not merely the result of good medical care but the result of what we do as a society to create conditions in which people can be healthy. Public policy can be one of the most effective approaches to protecting and improving the health of the population. “Healthy” public policy is particularly important in a time of scarce resources, because it can diminish or preclude the need for other, more costly and potentially less effective interventions.
At the request of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the IOM reviewed how statutes and regulations prevent injury and disease, save lives, and improve the health of the population. The IOM examined the legal and regulatory authority for public health activities, identified past efforts to develop model public health legislation, and described the implications of the changing social and policy context for public health laws and regulations. The IOM finds that public health law, much of which was enacted in different eras when communicable diseases were the primary population health threats, warrant systematic review and revision. In addition, the IOM urges government agencies to familiarize themselves with the public health and policy interventions at their disposal that can influence behavior and more importantly change conditions—social, economic, and environmental—to improve health. Lastly, the IOM encourages government and private sector stakeholders to consider health in a wide range of policies and to evaluate the health effects and costs of major legislation.
This report is part of a three-part series requested by RWJF to address major topics in public health. Collectively, the series will offer guideposts on the journey to becoming a healthier nation.