Cynthia Morrow headshotBy Cynthia Morrow, Former Lerner Chair

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Health is the result of the complex interactions between our genetics; our relationships with family, friends, and coworkers; the conditions in which we live, work, and play; and the overarching policies that impact these factors.  So how do we achieve “health” in a world that sometimes appears to be designed to undermine us, with unhealthful food that is conveniently placed and priced or neighborhoods that seem to preclude safe opportunities for physical activity?

Health promotion is the is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. It moves beyond a focus on individual behavior towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions.” (WHO).  Health promotion efforts can have the greatest impact when we understand the complexities of the determinants that impact health. As an example, in 1900, the leading three causes of death in the United States were all related to infectious diseases.  Health promotion efforts understandably focused on policies to improve sanitation, such as chlorination of public water supplies, and on initiatives to optimize systematic use of medical interventions such as vaccines and antibiotics. And while most of us are leading longer and healthier lives than ever, there is still much work to be done to promote health at a population level and to ensure that we all have the opportunity to achieve our optimal health.  Today, the leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease (such as emphysema). The challenges of addressing the burden that chronic diseases have on our population requires a different approach to health promotion than that which was taken to address communicable diseases in the 20th Century.  Today’s health promotion efforts include several required actions, as outlined below:

“Key Actions for Health Promotion” * and how the Lerner Center addresses these actions:

  • Advocate for health for all:
    • The Lerner Center works with partners on Near Westside to engage the community to identify ways to improve opportunities to increase physical activity. Recently the community identified that fixing streetlights and making improvements to a local park, Skiddy Park, were their priorities.
  • Invest in sustainable policies, actions, and infrastructure:
    • The Lerner Center works on development and promotion of Monday Campaigns to challenge local organizations and businesses to implement policies to change the defaults (for example the Meatless Monday and Monday Mile campaigns.)
  • Build capacity:
    • The Lerner Center engages and employs Master in Public Health and Master in Public Administration students to develop leadership skills in health promotion.
  • Partner and build alliances:
    • The Lerner Center has earned an excellent reputation in the community as an expert in community engagement and as an objective convener and facilitator for population health initiatives.

*Extracted from The Bangkok Charter for Health Promotion, 2005

The Lerner Center for Health Promotion is continually striving to work with our partners to promote health, using the above actions with approaches grounded both in evidence and in our knowledge of the community we serve.

Read more about the Lerner Center’s work over the past five years: