“Relentlessly seek and speak truth, challenge orthodoxies, listen to your gut, be suspicious of experts, self-proclaimed or otherwise.”
Anthony Iton MD, JD, MPH ’97 is Senior Vice President for Healthy Communities at The California Endowment. In the fall of 2009, he began to oversee the organization’s 10-year, multimillion-dollar statewide commitment to advance policies and forge partnerships to build healthy communities in California. In the past, he has served as the director for the Alameda County Public Health Department, and overseen the creation of public health practices designed to eliminate health disparities by tackling the root causes of poor health that limit quality of life and lifespan in many of California’s low‐income communities. In 2014, he delivered the keynote address for the School of Public Health’s commencement.
On public health and the challenges we face
The big public health challenges of the 21st Century are inextricably tied to the health of our democracy. Health equity and equity in general will require us to rededicate ourselves to the timeless principles that once made our democracy strong. Building power, voice, agency, and autonomy among all people, particularly those from stigmatized groups, is the most promising antidote to obesity, diabetes, opiate abuse, and a raft of chronic diseases that have now conspired to reduce our life expectancy.
The epiphany that I experienced listening to Len Syme articulate the social determinants as he recounted the failure of the MRFIT trial. That moment changed my life.
A change to one U.S. policy that would transform public health
Home mortgage interest deduction. It is some $70 billion that could be directed to housing programs to address homelessness. (Obviously universal healthcare would be nice too but it wouldn’t transform public health.)