Just as the organization is rebranding itself, Shiriki Kumanyika, an obesity and health researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, is preparing to lead the American Public Health Association.
Kumanyika said association leaders now know they need to present more than bare facts and statistics to sell the changes they want Americans to make — or to convince people that public health is worth public investment.
The association’s reputation as “solid and venerable” is good, Kumanyika said, “but, it wasn’t — sort of — exciting enough.”
Kumanyika, a member of the American Public Health Association since 1976, said she’s never seen more change in the organization than she did last week at the annual meeting in Boston.
“We’ve always said: ‘When we are doing our jobs well, people don’t know we are there.’ It’s a taken for granted — intentionally taken for granted — profession in a lot of ways,” said Kumanyika, a professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Unexpressed in that mission is the idea that researchers and health officials create healthy environments, so the rest of us don’t have to think too hard about making healthy decisions.
“We don’t want people to have to test their water before they drink it,” Kumanyika said. “We want the seatbelt to be automatic.”
Kumanyika said today’s public health professionals will continue to make science-based decisions, but are increasingly willing to tout their industry achievements — with a little passion.
The rebranded APHA will do more than let facts to carry the message, she said.
“It describes public health so much better because people in public health will just bend your ear off in the elevator — talking about all the things that you need to do, and how great it is — but it wasn’t coming through, at least it wasn’t coming through enough in these days when people are telling stories, the way people communicate is so different now,” she said.
Kumanyika will serve as APHA’s president-elect for a year before stepping up as association president in 2014.
The membership includes academic researchers, epidemiologists, bio-statisticians, occupational safety, health policy and management experts as well as professionals working in health departments at the local, state and federal level.