Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

“Healthy People 2010”: national health objectives for the United States

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 28 November 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1513
  1. Ronald M Davis (, director
  1. Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Henry Ford Health System, One Ford Place, 5C, Detroit, MI 48202-3450, USA
  • Accepted 7 November 1998

Establishing health objectives for a population is an important component of programmes aimed at improving and protecting public health. At whatever level it is used—community, state, country, or continent—a system to develop and attain health objectives serves several useful purposes (see box below). Adoption of health objectives at the national (or international) level can encourage the adoption of health objectives in smaller jurisdictions, tailored to local needs and circumstances.

Summary points

  • Establishing national health objectives is an important strategy to improve and protect public health

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services's recent draft objectives, Healthy People 2010, are impressive in their scope, detail, and insight—but there are too many objectives, and too many of them are unmeasurable

  • Inconsistency and lack of balance exist across the 26 priority areas, and the role of the federal government is undefined

  • Federal politics has tainted the process of setting national health objectives; new approaches need to be considered

Examples of action (and inaction)

Despite the clear benefits of establishing health objectives for populations, their use is still not universal. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, for example, have promulgated broad national health objectives, but Canada has not. Europe has distinguished itself among continents by establishing regional health objectives.

Purposes of establishing health objectives

  • To provide a baseline assessment of the population's health

  • To establish a tracking system for monitoring change in the population's health

  • To facilitate evaluation of the impact of health improvement activities

  • To increase the breadth and intensity of health improvement activities (through ambitious goal setting)

  • To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health improvement activities by defining priority strategies to reach the goals that have been set

  • To foster a unity of purpose, organisational participation and partnerships, and a spirit of cooperation (by defining goals and strategies through a consensus process)

  • To help build awareness of, and support …

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