A New Dawn For Public Health
Michael R. Bloomberg's $300 million gift will save lives across the U.S., for generations to come.
Words by Maryalice Yakutchik • Illustration by Joey Guidone
Hundreds of new students. Scores of new collaborations with public and private organizations. Major new faculty hires. Groundbreaking research on some of the fundamental issues affecting health in the U.S. What’s envisioned for the Bloomberg School’s second century is not business as usual.
Announced on September 15, Michael R. Bloomberg’s transformative $300 million gift to the School is infusing the oldest and largest school of public health with a new energy. The gift, from Bloomberg Philanthropies, prioritizes improving domestic public health and establishes the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.
The Initiative seeks to improve American health by targeting five focus areas: addiction and overdose; environmental challenges; obesity and the food system; risks to adolescent health; and violence. By tackling these issues, the Initiative seeks to reverse the decline in recent decades of U.S. health gains.
“People are living longer lives than ever before in history, thanks in no small part to the pioneering public health work done at Johns Hopkins over the last century. But we can and must do better, starting here in the U.S., where life expectancy is lagging behind much of the developed world,” says Bloomberg, citing America’s life expectancy ranking among developed countries at 31 which places it between Costa Rica and Cuba.
“We are a global school. We work around the world. But we have always worked in our local community, in Maryland, and across the U.S.,” says Dean Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87. “The value of this gift is it will allow us to do more. Much more.”
The real beneficiary of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ remarkable investment is not an institution, Klag points out. Rather, it’s individuals living in communities across the U.S. whose health stand to be impacted by BAHI.
As the WHO Global Ambassador for noncommunicable diseases and three-term mayor of New York City—where he launched and backed a range of enlightened public health initiatives—Bloomberg “knows the power of public health,” says Klag. (See "The Visionary" for more about Bloomberg’s impact on public health.)
“Michael Bloomberg’s commitment to this transformational initiative is testament to his vision that, as our nation’s public health challenges have evolved, so too must our model of public health,” says Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels.
BAHI will create an innovative “public health triangle” that brings together the School, students and community organizations (including public health agencies, nonprofits, and even school systems and police departments) to find solutions to persistent health problems, according to Klag.
Coinciding with the School’s Centennial, the gift sets the tone for the next century, Klag says, noting that it will boost scholarships and almost double the number of the School’s endowed professorships. Of particular benefit is support for vital research in areas that are difficult to get funded, such as violence and health effects related to the environment.
Specifically, the gift provides for:
- A $100 million endowment to fund 50 Bloomberg Fellows each year. Nominated from organizations across the nation, the Fellows will receive their MPH degree and commit to returning to their communities to work in public health for at least one year. By its 10th year, the program will have a network of hundreds of fellows. “We’ve learned from doing this in other countries that, for people to return home, they need the opportunity for continued professional development and support,” Klag explains. “We require that fellows not only apply but also be nominated by organizations which then guarantee they will have salaried positions to go back to after their MPH studies.”
- $125 million to endow 25 professorships and support research within the five focus areas as well as jumpstart immediate research needs. This network of faculty will extend well beyond the Bloomberg School, with 10 of the funded faculty receiving joint appointments in other schools at the University and 12 faculty members receiving joint appointments that span more than one department at the Bloomberg School.
- $20 million to establish scholarships for Johns Hopkins University’s new Schoolwide Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program.
- $55 million in current use funds for research in the five focus areas over 10 years as well as support for a biennial public health summit that will bring together Bloomberg Fellows, faculty and partnering organizations to share findings from research and practice to solve major health issues.
- “By spreading smart public health strategies that save lives and bringing people together to try new approaches, we can make the same strides in the 21st century against health threats like air pollution, gun violence and obesity that we did in the 20th century against polio and other infectious diseases,” Bloomberg says.
BAHI Focus Areas
Addiction and Overdose
ISSUE: Opioids (including prescription pain medication and heroin) killed 29,467 people in the U.S. in 2014.
APPROACH: New efforts will build on active research and advocacy projects, including work with the state of Rhode Island to reduce addiction and overdose, studies examining the correlation between the volume of prescription opioids on the market and injury and deaths from these drugs, and research on the role of insurance coverage in ensuring access to needed treatment.
ISSUE: Climate change and energy transition will present multiple threats to public health.
APPROACH: Seeking a more sustain- able future, BAHI will examine the drivers and consequences of global environmental change in light of energy scarcity and financial and political obstacles. It will address these issues by connecting public health with urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture, environmental design, agronomy and civil engineering.
Obesity and the Food System
ISSUE: 1 in 6 American children and adolescents—and more than one-third of adults—are obese.
APPROACH: The broken U.S. food system requires a range of fixes. BAHI will advocate for incentives to farmers to produce a healthy food supply, teach kids to choose healthy foods and develop models that measure the impact of policy changes on obesity rates. The Initiative will also address healthy nutrition in food deserts and advocate for evidence-based action.
Risk to Adolescent Health
ISSUE: Unintentional injuries, suicide and homicide are the leading causes of death for adolescents ages 15–19.
APPROACH: With decades of adolescent health research at the School, BAHI will draw on global expertise in research into young people’s risk-taking behaviors through the lenses of race, gender, sexual identity and income. A Center for Adolescent Health program, for example, empowers adolescents to directly influence youth-related policies and activities throughout Baltimore.
ISSUE: Homicide claimed 14,249 American lives in 2014; a violent crime occurs every 26.3 seconds.
APPROACH: Framing gun violence as a public health issue, School faculty are national leaders on the effectiveness of gun safety laws, domestic and youth violence. BAHI will expand on groundbreaking research such as a recent study that found Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase law was associated with a 40% reduction in the gun homicide rate over 10 years.