To Create Healthy Communities, Public Health and Business Must Work Together

Today our nation and world face incredible health challenges—costly infectious and chronic diseases and large-scale emergencies. These challenges take lives and negatively impact our economy. But by working together we have opportunities to positively impact health as well.

For instance, the benefits offered by businesses to their employees, along with the work of health providers and public health systems, play a central role in improving the health of communities through prevention and preparedness. Together, the public health and business sectors have mutual interests in keeping us all healthy.

To explore these overlapping interests, the CDC Foundation last week facilitated a panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas: Health festival highlighting opportunities for public health and business to work together to create healthy and vibrant communities. Participating in the panel were CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, Congressman Larry Bucshon, MD, of Indiana, and Ethan Berke, MD, MPH, senior vice president and chief public health officer at Optum Health.

“I think we all saw how a virus can turn our lives and our economy upside down. We know that good public health is good for business,” said CDC’s Cohen. “We also know the mission of public health to protect health and improve lives is a big mission, and it cannot be done alone from CDC or even if CDC partnered with just traditional public health entities. It has to be a team sport to improve lives across the country.”

The concept of partnership was central to the panel discussion. “Businesses are in the community and are the primary economic driver,” said Berke. “I think any industry has an opportunity to do public-private partnerships. That’s our opportunity to amplify the message of CDC and state and local health departments and tribal health departments into a trusted part of the community.” 

And whether at the community level, or the national level, there’s a very real connection between healthy people and a healthy economy. “Every business has a vested interest in the people who work for them being healthy. There’s a direct connection between economic prosperity and the health of the population,” said Rep. Bucshon. “If you’re a very unhealthy population, then you’re going to have people who can’t participate in the workforce and who have … high medical costs that will affect economic prosperity.”

To build on these perspectives, Dr. Cohen and I had a more in-depth discussion about the importance of business and public health working together to strengthen our economy and communities. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to this discussion to learn more about this vital relationship.

Judy Monroe
Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.