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IN THE UNITED STATES AND AROUND THE WORLD, a transformation is under way: As a society we’re getting older, with profound and wide-ranging implications.
The driving force behind this aging revolution is clear. In the United States, life expectancy increased by 30 years during the 20th century; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that public health was responsible for giving us 25 of those additional 30 years. By focusing on preventing disease and promoting health through research, education, policy, partnerships and so many other means, public health has sown the seeds of the aging revolution.
Of course, this success has introduced new challenges, many of which are outlined in the articles on some of the aging-related work of our faculty, students and alumni that are featured in this issue of our school’s magazine. Advanced older age is associated with higher risk of many chronic conditions — including most cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia, as well as declines in physical function. Thus, the steep rise in older adults projected in the United States and most of the rest of the world over the next several decades demands new ways of thinking about prevention and health promotion across the life course; health care financing; and long-term care. Public health must be at the forefront of these discussions.
But along with these challenges come exciting opportunities. Public health is poised to lead the way in another kind of revolution — one in which we focus on what we know about successful aging that can help us to maximize the health, quality of life and contributions of our elders. We must embrace the benefits older workers and entrepreneurs bring to companies, along with the critical role of older people in civic life, philanthropy and families. We must build communities that better meet the needs of elders and facilitate intergenerational opportunities that take advantage of their invaluable experience. And, needless to say, we must continue to promote ways of living and prevention strategies that will keep all members of our society healthier. We invite you to partner with the Fielding School as we work toward these and other goals to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live a long and fruitful life.
Jody Heymann, MD, PhD