Can public health promotion beat disease?

Huge efforts are under way to address health problems such as SARS, HIV, diabetes and many other illnesses by developing vaccines or therapeutic drugs. However, understanding culture and behavioral ecology to create sensible public policy may hold as much potential for fighting infectious and chronic diseases worldwide, says Melbourne F. Hovell, Ph.D., a professor in San Diego State University's Graduate School of Public Health. He will discuss this topic at the university's 14th annual Albert W. Johnson Research Lecture on April 28.

"We need to emphasize disease prevention, and not just treatment," said Hovell, who will deliver his free public lecture at 4 p.m. at SDSU's Little Theatre. "This is important because despite our best efforts to eradicate disease, nature continues to throw new problems our way, and all signs indicate that many diseases we're fighting today will continue to be with us, and may increase in rate and severity."

Hovell is an internationally recognized scholar in the field of health promotion and a founder of SDSU's Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health (CBEACH). He will discuss the application of his research to global public health concerns and suggest prevention efforts to address catastrophic pandemic risks. His work has been instrumental in fostering a better understanding of medical concerns such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), breast cancer and hepatitis.

Analyzing how a community or individual's behavior affects health and disease will become even more important in coming decades, Hovell said, because in addition to the constant threat of infectious disease, chronic diseases typically found in wealthy nations - obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. - are becoming more widespread worldwide. These diseases can be fought through health promotion, although it's often a complicated process.

"A lot of health promotion programs put the burden of making healthy choices on the individual. But the prevalence of tobacco in China, or fat-heavy fast food here in the U.S., has to be considered," Hovell said. "No one plans to become a smoker at age 11 or obese by their teenage years. They're living in a world built for them, not by them. So we must address their community or culture as well to affect change."

There is proof this approach can work, Hovell said, citing the success of California's Tobacco Control program as an example of reducing smoking rates in the state to among the lowest in the world.

Hovell's multidisciplinary clinical research has received grant support of nearly $30 million. He has produced over 300 articles, letters, published abstracts, and paper presentations, and has mentored more than 200 students during his tenure.

The Albert W. Johnson University Research Lecture was created to recognize SDSU faculty members for outstanding achievement in research and scholarship, and to foster continuation of such accomplishments. This lecture series was named in 1991 to recognize the contributions of Albert W. Johnson, longtime faculty member, dean and provost at SDSU whose leadership was instrumental in transforming SDSU into an institution that celebrates scholarly accomplishment as an essential ingredient of teaching excellence. The series is sponsored by Graduate and Research Affairs and the University Research Council and is supported in part through Instructionally Related Activities funds.

SDSU is the oldest and largest institution of higher education in the San Diego region. Founded in 1897, SDSU offers bachelor's degrees in 79 areas, master's degrees in 67 and doctorates in 14. SDSU's more than 33,000 students participate in academic curricula distinguished by direct contact with faculty and an increasing international emphasis that prepares them for a global future. For more information log on to www.sdsu.edu.

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