U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson, M.D., participated in the inaugural address yesterday at Preventive Medicine 2002, the annual meeting of the American College of Preventive Medicine being held in San Antonio Feb. 20 through 24. Dean Ornish, MD, Founder and President, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, gave the keynote speech and was on hand to answer questions from attendees.

Thompson, who addressed the audience by videotape, said, “We look at things backward in this country. We wait until people get sick, and then provide them with care. It creates billions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare costs.” He added that he intends to “ignite a national dialogue about the state of America's health,” and will be calling on preventive health experts, such as those attending this conference, for ideas, suggestions and help. He also briefly discussed President Bush's new “Healthy Communities Innovation Initiative,” with a $20 million budget to bring together community-wide resources to help prevent diabetes, asthma and obesity.

Obesity, diet and cardiac health was the subject of Ornish's keynote speech, “Diet, Lifestyle and the Power to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease.” His Optimal Lifestyle program, which has been shown in numerous published studies to reduce and even reverse heart disease through diet and exercise, is now being supported by the government in a new initiative, Ornish announced today act the meeting. A bipartisan commitment by the Bush administration and members of Congress will allow Medicare to pay for 1,800 patients to go through the program at the sites that he and his colleagues at Lifestyle Advantage have trained. This is notable, he says, since most healthcare insurers do not routinely cover preventive medicine programs and indicates a new commitment to make preventive health a priority, as Thompson also indicated today.

Bioterrorism was covered extensively throughout the first day of seminars, panels and presentations. The Bioterrorism Response Training Institute: The Art & Science of Being Prepared focused on public health and terrorism, covering such topics as preparation, coordination and response, as well as elimination. Several speakers from the USAMRIID, including Major Anthony Littrell, M.D., discussed category A biological agents, medical management of biological casualties, and natural vs. intentional outbreaks, vaccines and other bioterrorism topics.

Jean Malecki, MD, MPH, Palm Beach County Health Department, discussed local preparation and response to bioterrorism. Malecki was the key public health official dealing with the initial anthrax outbreak and deaths in Florida last fall and is considered among the top experts in public preparedness of bioterrorist health threats. She was also on a panel of experts today who discussed the “Role of the Media in Bioterrorism,” also featuring experts from KSAT-TV, San Antonio, and the office of the Florida Governor.

David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, Yale School of Medicine, Chair of Preventive Medicine 2002, said, “Preventive medicine has typically played a 'low-key,' 'behind-the-scenes' role. What is exciting about our annual conference this year is that our expertise and activities are on the forefront of some of the challenges Americans are facing from terrorism, to obesity and diabetes.”