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Building a healthy foundation

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation of Indianapolis has awarded a $20 million grant to IUPUI to help fund its proposed school of public health and provide increased support for public health initiatives in Indiana.

IUPUI hopes to open its school of public health in the fall of 2011 after the review to renew the accreditation for the Master of Public Health program is completed. Chancellor Charles R. Bantz says at least 80 percent of the gift will be placed in an endowment that will provide essential funding for faculty and students.

Bantz believes “the impact of this gift will forever be seen in the education of students who will become tomorrow's public health professionals and researchers, in the support of ongoing public health research, and in the direct improvement of the health of the people of Indiana. Part of the challenge is not only treating disease, but also preventing it in the first place. Public health is about prevention.”

Leonard J. Betley, chairman of the Fairbanks Foundation, says a major focus of the foundation is improving health. “Major deficiencies in our region and state are resources, research and trained personnel in the area of public health,” he says. “Health studies consistently show that disease prevention through public health initiatives has a significant impact on the physical and economic health of a community. Creating a badly needed school of public health is a step long overdue, and we are pleased to be part of the effort.”

Indiana faces a number of public health challenges. Data just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that Indiana has the highest prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults of all 50 states. Obesity is another key risk factor for a wide range of chronic diseases, and CDC data show Indiana ranking 12th among the states in obesity prevalence among adults. Reductions in tobacco use and obesity are leading factors in reducing a wide range of illnesses, morbidity and premature deaths from chronic diseases.

Data from the Trust for America's Health shows that Indiana ranks 11th in infant mortality, 11th in adult physical inactivity and 25th in fruit and vegetable intake. Because 1st is the worst health outcome in these ratings, lower numbers mean poorer health outcomes. “These statistics can all be improved, with our new school playing a key role in community-based health promotions that address these problems,” Bantz says.

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“Part of the challenge is not only treating disease, but also preventing it in the first place. Public health is about prevention.”