Friday, April 16, 2010

The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health

Public health and medicine are the two largest sectors in the health system in the United States. Historically, they have worked together to solve health problems of the past, but more recently, they have worked together less. Today, we are seeing health problems that are extremely complex, that neither medicine nor public health can solve alone.

For example, obesity has become a major public health issue in the United States; children and adolescents are substantially affected. There are over 25 million children and teenagers are overweight or obese, which is equivalent to one in three young people. Childhood obesity is especially pressing, because overweight children are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, asthma and certain types of cancer. Studies are even showing that this generation is expected to live a shorter life than their parents.

HIV/AIDS is another health problem that is impossible to solve without the intersection of medical research and public health. Over the past decade, less attention has been paid to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in the United States. The global epidemic — particularly the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa -- has rightfully received most of the focus.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of HIV infection within some U.S. populations now rivals that in some sub-Saharan African countries. For example, more than 1 in 30 adults in Washington, D.C., are HIV-infected — a prevalence higher than that reported in Ethiopia, Nigeria, or Rwanda.

In showing these two examples of health problems, it is clear to see the need of public health and medicine to work together to improve the health of our nation today, and in the future. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of posts in a timeline approach to show how medical research and public health intersect to address health problems in the past (influenza), and how they can continue to do so in the present (childhood obesity) and the future (HIV/AIDS).

This is Part 1 of 5 in our Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health series.
Part 1 - The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health
Part 2 - Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together
Part 3 - Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity
Part 4 - HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?
Part 5 - Advocating for the Intersection

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