UAMS Professor Examines Organization’s Goal of U.S. Becoming the Healthiest Nation

By Kev' Moye

Namvar Zohoori, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, a professor in the college’s Department of Epidemiology, wrote a paper that looked at whether the APHA goal to make the U.S. the healthiest nation was rational and clearly defined.

“I think the goal is a very good one,” Zohoori said. “However, what I noticed in looking at various APHA documents and literature is that the goal is defined and interpreted differently.

“Healthiest nation can be defined as ‘healthiest nation in the world,’ ‘healthiest nation it can be’ or ‘healthiest nation it has ever been.’ And some of these definitions can be unattainable or undesirable. Therefore, I felt it was necessary to bring attention to the need for a clear definition to assure that we’re all striving toward the right goal — to help the U.S. become the healthiest nation it has ever been.”

The organization created the goal in 2015, at a time when the health status of the U.S. lagged behind that other developed nations. Zohoori noted that factors like different social statuses, economics and politics were the primary reasons for the nation’s overall low health rating. The APHA wanted to do its part to remedy the situation.

“The main reason behind this goal is to create a national movement to improve the health of the nation in a unified effort,” Zohoori said. “The organization’s stated belief at the time was that good health is a fundamental human right and that we can all enjoy and be a part of the healthiest nation.”

But not having things clearly defined can serve as a hinderance to reaching the goal, he added.

“Do we want to set a goal that simply requires us to leave other nations and populations behind,” Zohoori said. “Or do we want to pull each other up as we progress along our health continuum? That’s why clearly defining the goal and path to achieving the goal is important.”

The American Journal of Public Health published Zohoori’s paper, which deemed the APHA’s vision as a plea for everyone, especially the nation’s health sector, to work together towards making the U.S. the healthiest nation it has ever been.

“We must be willing to work together, both within the U.S. and with other countries, and accept a monumental change in relation to how we conduct our lives,” Zohoori said. “We have to embrace health strategies and measures that are not based on profit or prestige, but instead are created out of compassion, collaboration, unity and justice.”

He said that since 2015 the U.S. has taken steps in the right direction. However, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the situation. But with time, health officials are learning more about COVID-19 and giving people options on how to safeguard themselves. That’s a direct link to the effectiveness of public health officials nationwide and in Arkansas.

The emphasis on trained public health professionals not only benefits Arkansans in dealing with the virus, but also in doing its part to help the U.S. become the healthiest nation.

“There’ve been a number of social developments in fighting poverty and access to care for the poor, as well as food safety, drug control, immunizations, and water and sewer services associated with public health, which has improved the overall health of Arkansas,” Zohoori said. “The establishment of the college in 2001 provided an opportunity for Arkansans to receive a public health education. As a result, currently we have a significant group of public health professionals who, through research and other public health practices, are addressing the health needs of Arkansans.”

In the editorial, Zohoori said the APHA goal is potentially attainable. However, clearly defining the goals, along with health officials doing their part to lead the way and everyone taking a general interest in the well-being of their community members are the chief pathways to success.

“The goal of helping all of us should be the focus,” Zohoori said. “Making sure we all achieve our highest health potential, which in many ways depends on all of us achieving our best social, economic, emotional and spiritual potentials.”