History of Healthy People

History of the Healthy People Initiative

In 1979, Surgeon General Julius Richmond issued a landmark report titled “Healthy People: The Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.” Then, in 1980, ODPHP released Healthy People 1990, which was followed in later decades by new iterations of the Healthy People initiative, each building on the last. 

Healthy People 1990 included the first set of ambitious, measurable 10-year objectives for improving health and well-being nationwide. It focused on decreasing deaths throughout the life span and on increasing independence among older adults.

Healthy People 2000, the second iteration of the initiative, was guided by 3 broad goals:

  • Increase the span of healthy life
  • Reduce health disparities
  • Achieve access to preventive services for all

Healthy People 2010, the initiative’s third iteration, had an increased focus on improving quality of life. In addition, one of its overarching goals was to eliminate health disparities rather than simply reduce them.

Healthy People 2020, the initiative’s fourth iteration, had 4 overarching goals:

  • Attain high-quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury, and premature death
  • Achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups
  • Create social and physical environments that promote good health for all
  • Promote quality of life, healthy development, and healthy behaviors across all life stages

Healthy People 2030, launched in August 2020, is the fifth — and current — iteration of the Healthy People initiative. It builds on knowledge gained over the last 4 decades and has an increased focus on health equity, social determinants of health, and health literacy — with a new focus on well-being.

End-of-Decade Assessments 

At the end of every decade, HHS assesses progress toward achieving Healthy People’s 10-year national objectives. To learn more about the nation’s progress over the decades, check out these end-of-decade assessments:

Progress Made

Since Healthy People 1990, the United States has made significant progress on key public health priorities, as organizations at the local, state, territorial, tribal, and national level have focused their resources and efforts to improve the health and well-being of all people. Achievements include: 

  • Reductions in major causes of death, like heart disease and cancer
  • Increases in preventive behaviors, like childhood vaccinations
  • Reductions in risk factors, like smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol 

Progress like this isn’t easy, but it’s possible with persistent efforts — and partnerships that span sectors. 

Lessons Learned

One of our key lessons learned from Healthy People is that a widely accessible plan with achievable goals can guide individuals, organizations, communities, and other stakeholders to improve health. We also know that improving health nationwide requires collaboration within and beyond the public health field. 

In addition, we’ve learned how important it is to monitor progress toward achieving Healthy People objectives and to share high-quality data and feedback. That’s why we've used rigorous objective selection criteria and why we’ve made sure Healthy People 2030 data are timely, easy to find, and easy to use.  

Although we’ve made a lot of progress, the United States still faces many challenges. Healthy People 2030 provides a framework for addressing emerging health issues like COVID-19, the opioid epidemic, and e-cigarette use — along with ongoing issues like heart disease, cancer, and obesity.