Dean’s message: Research to knowledge to action

Julio Frenk

Spring/Summer 2010 ]

When I became Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, in January 2009, one of my key priorities was to translate knowledge into effective policies and actions that improve the health of populations.

To make this goal a reality, I recently established a new Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development at HSPH. Leading this effort will be Robert Blendon, currently professor of health policy and political analysis at both HSPH and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. As Senior Associate Dean for Policy Translation and Leadership Development, Bob will oversee our project to bring together faculty, students, and global health leaders to forge research into better public health programs and policies.

This special theme issue of the Review highlights another flagship priority in 2010 at the School: research on Women and Health. Why not simply “Women’s Health”? Because in a world where the quest for gender equity is playing out across cultures, government policy, and scientific inquiry, we need a comprehensive framework to capture all the dimensions of the interaction between women and health systems.

A few recent examples of how the School’s research has shaped public health

Demonstrated that not all fats are “bad fats”—but rather, that different types of fat produce different effects, with trans fatty acids harmful to health and plant oils beneficial. The finding toppled nutrition advice in the U.S. and worldwide.

Made health care safer by introducing safety checklists for surgical teams: a simple and effective way to reduce millions of deaths and injuries from medical errors. The “Safe Surgery Initiative” was undertaken with the World Health Organization.

Polled Americans throughout the H1N1 flu outbreak and beyond to gauge their perceptions and understanding of the illness. Such insight can be invaluable to policymakers as they respond to an unfolding epidemic and prepare for the next one.

Reduced kids’ exposure to smoking in movies with a pivotal presentation to Hollywood moguls. The evidence contributed to the Motion Picture Association of America’s decision that the repeated depiction of actors smoking can be used as a factor in determining a rating.

See more examples on our milestones and press releases pages.

“Dean’s Message: Research to Knowledge to Action” article pdf

In this Review, a selection of articles illustrates the wide, multidisciplinary landscape of Women and Health. The stories investigate failures to address maternal and newborn health challenges in developing nations, the health effects among girls and women who are regularly exploited in India and elsewhere, and an HSPH student’s exploration of U.S. family planning policy. The Winter 2010 Review cover story on comparative-effectiveness research reflected another current School priority: Understanding What Works. And an upcoming Review will delve into another flagship priority, Genes and the Environment.

All these topics feed into the broader goal of knowledge translation: improving health by generating sound evidence that can inform policy, practice, and public opinion. In an increasingly interconnected world, we must make such hard-won knowledge a global public good.

— Julio Frenk Dean of the Faculty and T & G Angelopoulos Professor of Public Health and International Development, Harvard School of Public Health

Photo: Kent Dayton