Opinion

AMA Foundation invests in health of America

The Fund for Better Health continues the AMA Foundation's strong tradition of advancing public health.

Posted Feb. 16, 2004.

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When legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill said "all politics is local," he could just as easily have been talking about successful public health initiatives.

It is the foot soldiers working in communities across this country who must step up and develop programs that help the nation as a whole meet its public health goals. The AMA Foundation has recognized this and is providing a powerful weapon for local foot soldiers with its Fund for Better Health. Launched in 2002, the fund provides 25 $1,000 grants to AMA-affiliated organizations that address public health issues selected by the Foundation. In 2002 and 2003 those issues were health literacy promotion, anti-tobacco initiatives and violence prevention. The Foundation has decided to take on two new issues in 2004. This year's grants will be awarded in the areas of substance abuse prevention, health nutrition and physical fitness, and violence prevention.

The fund is the Foundation's way of providing seed money for grassroots community health programs and is part of its ongoing effort to recognize community service as a worthy goal for the medical profession and the organizations related to it.

Indeed, by adding the category of health nutrition and fitness into the fund this year, the Foundation has aligned itself with the AMA on what is sure to be the new public health battlefront. The AMA held an Obesity Action Workshop at its Interim Meeting in December 2003, and both the AMA and the American Academy of Family Physicians have released guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of patients who are overweight or obese.

The Foundation is looking for AMA-affiliated groups who can use the grant money to confront the growing problem of childhood obesity. A recent study published in the January Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine highlighted the problem. According to the study, the United States has the highest percentage of overweight teenagers when compared with 13 European countries and Israel. This is an especially vexing concern given that overweight children often become overweight adults, as the Foundation no doubt considered in its decision to focus on the young.

Much of the money to be awarded in 2004 will go to county medical societies or local chapters of the AMA Alliance. The Alliance, with its own mission of promoting better public health, is the perfect partner for the Foundation in this endeavor. It has a strong history of grassroots programs focused on educating children and young adults.

The AMA Foundation has a strong educational tradition as well. In 2000, it launched a campaign to fight health illiteracy. That campaign will continue even as the Foundation takes on this new challenge.

It also remains true to its founding mission -- to provide financial assistance to medical schools and aspiring physicians. In 2002, the Foundation gave educational grants of just more than $1 million. This is accomplished through its scholars fund and its endowed scholarships. The Foundation is also a sponsor of the National Student Research Forum and provides research seed grants to medical students.

These efforts are funded by a variety of grants, by contributions raised by the AMA Alliance and by gifts from individuals. Foundation funds make a real difference for medical students and for the AMA-affiliated organizations that receive grants from the Fund for Better Health as well as other Foundation programs. Medicine receives a solid return on every dollar entrusted in the AMA Foundation, because it is an investment in the health of America.

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