Association of State and Territorial Health Officials: Helping Public Health Agencies Improve Health Nationwide

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This post is part of Healthy People in Action, a blog series highlighting how key partners use the Healthy People framework in their work, form cross-sector collaborations, and address social determinants of health to help achieve health equity.

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) is the national nonprofit organization representing public health agencies in U.S. states and territories, freely associated states, and the District of Columbia. That means it plays a major role in improving health and well-being nationwide — and it’s an ideal partner for Healthy People 2030. ASTHO and ODPHP work together toward their common goals through a cooperative agreement.

“Healthy People and ASTHO have a mutual focus on promoting and advancing the health of all people,” says Talyah Sands, ASTHO’s director of health improvement. “At ASTHO, we help our member public health agencies use the Healthy People framework as a vehicle to achieve their own health promotion goals.”

Working Together Toward Better Health for All

ASTHO’s mission is to “support, equip, and advocate for state and territorial health officials in their work of advancing the public’s health and well-being.” And when it comes to Healthy People, that means making sure public health agencies have the information and resources they need to use Healthy People in their work. For example, ASTHO helps public health agencies incorporate Healthy People objectives into health improvement plans for their jurisdictions.

The partnership between ASTHO and Healthy People broadened after ASTHO interviewed Healthy People State Coordinators in 2018. Through the interviews, ASTHO learned how its members were using Healthy People successfully — and what recommendations they had for the next iteration of the initiative. ASTHO shared its findings with ODPHP for consideration during the development of Healthy People 2030.

Today ASTHO offers a package of resources to support public health agencies in using Healthy People 2030. These include:

  • An infographic explaining the 3 types of Healthy People objectives — core, developmental, and research — and how health agencies can align their health improvement plans with objectives
  • Videos explaining Healthy People topics — including environmental health, immunization and infectious diseases, and diabetes — that align with ASTHO policy committees
  • A podcast episode about how public health agencies can use and support the Healthy People framework

Sands says health agencies are drivers of achieving optimal health for all and advancing health equity — and that Healthy People offers a blueprint to help them do this.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

Healthy People 2030 has an increased focus on social determinants of health — reflected in the Healthy People framework and across a variety of objectives. And this directly aligns with ASTHO’s work.

“At ASTHO, we have many initiatives that focus on addressing social determinants of health in an effort to advance health equity,” says Kelsey Donnellan, senior analyst of health improvement at ASTHO. She cites a few ASTHO projects as examples:

  • The 2019 ASTHO President’s Challenge encourages public health agencies to form cross-sector, community-led partnerships focused on building healthier, more resilient communities
  • Through the Healthy Heart, Healthy Brain project, ASTHO partnered with the International Association for Indigenous Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the increased risk of dementia among American Indian and Alaska Native populations
  • ASTHO’s chronic disease prevention team used GIS mapping to identify disparities in breast cancer outcomes across different geographic areas — and then assisted states with tailoring policy changes to address the disparities

Sands and Donnellan say the ASTHO team is excited about new opportunities to work with Healthy People to achieve Healthy People 2030 goals and eliminate health disparities by addressing social determinants of health throughout the decade.

Planning for the Future

As ASTHO looks to the next decade, it will continue to help state and territorial public health agencies use Healthy People in the way that best meets their constituents’ needs.

Donnellan says ASTHO’s ultimate goal in collaborating with ODPHP is to help members engage with Healthy People and integrate it into their planning efforts so that, together, they can improve health for all people and advance health equity.

Categories: health.gov Blog
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