Open letter to the New Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy

By Derek Yach

Dear Dr. Murthy,

Congratulations on being confirmed as the new Surgeon General of the United States of America. You will face many challenges as you tackle the health needs of the country.

There is growing understanding of the need to build – in the words of Risa Lavisso-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – a “culture of health” that pervades decision-making across all sectors of society and focuses tightly on placing the health of the nation, especially the most vulnerable, at the core of government and private endeavors. This is not an easy task but if it is successful, it could elevate the health of Americans to the level of health attained by many other nations around the world. Other societies have done what America has so far failed to do by placing far greater emphasis on the value of social, preventive and health promotion services and policies. The results from these investments are clear: better health for more people at a lower cost.

In recent years, the voice of a Surgeon General has been missing in the public space. This void was painfully clear during the start of the Ebola crisis when a confused cacophony of voices needlessly increased fear and panic. But times of crisis are rare. Your voice on deeply neglected issues that impact vulnerable groups could galvanize actions that have remained in the shadows for far too long. High on the list must be the destigmatization of mental health; far greater support for healthy aging; and a greater urgency for bringing prevention and health promotion to the parts of America where the risk of preventable chronic diseases is unacceptably high.

In tackling specific risks you will need to be bold and unwavering in support of evidence-based actions. For too long, the American public has been subject to messages that distort risk and overstate the value of unproven approaches. This makes it difficult for the average person to know what to do to protect their health and the health of their children.

Finally, your task requires that compassion and caring be not mere words but translated into actions that help all people live long, healthy, and fulfilled lives. As Surgeon General, your voice has great power. I urge you to use that voice to help businesses and governments adopt evidence-based health promotion and chronic disease prevention methods to build a culture of health in America.

Research from the Vitality Institute can help by demonstrating where your voice and focus can make a substantive difference to the lives of millions. The Institute’s recommendations are based on of the work of an esteemed group of public health experts who served on the Vitality Institute Commission on Health Promotion and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases in Working-Age Americans and completed a report on the centrality of prevention and health promotion to current and future health.

It is time to invest properly in the health of America’s workforce as one of the key means of achieving a culture of health, and we look forward to doing our part to contribute to such a laudable goal.

Best regards,


Dr. Derek Yach
Executive Director, Vitality Institute


Image Source: via Scientific American

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