02/17/2009 02:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stimulus Will (Literally) Get America Moving Again

With the stroke of a pen, when President Obama signed the stimulus this week, he not only created in jobs and extended unemployment benefits - he made the biggest increased investment ever to prevent disease in America. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 includes more than $1 billion for prevention and wellness. This investment will not only create or save more than 20,000 public health jobs, but it will also help contain the nation's skyrocketing health care costs by helping America's workforce get healthier.

The investment in prevention and wellness is smart and timely. It will create jobs in the short-term, reinforce the health safety net during tough economic times, and reduce health care costs in the long term. How? The fund will support evidence-based clinical and community-based prevention and wellness strategies, including $300 million for immunizations, $650 million for community prevention programs, and $50 million for reducing healthcare associated infections. In addition, $500 million was included to bolster the health and public health workforce. These funds mean more healthy food options in poor neighborhoods, more ways for kids to play and adults to exercise after work on well lit, safe sidewalks, more family vaccinations, and more affordable smoking cessation programs.

If preventing chronic disease in America sounds like a lot of work, that's because it is. After all, two-thirds of Americans are either overweight obese and 20 million people have type 2 diabetes.

These programs are needed now more than ever because as more and more workers are laid off, more and more fall from the health care rolls. The services public health agencies and organizations provide will help reinforce the community health safety net for the unemployed, uninsured, and underinsured during the economic downturn.

This investment has another key purpose - it gets a foot in the door for prevention and wellness as policymakers move on to address health care reform. Keeping Americans healthier is one of the best ways to reduce health care costs, and this historic investment is the first step toward transforming our system from one that only treats people after they get sick to instead helping people stay well in the first place. The bill gets the ball rolling in the right direction by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create accountability measures that ensure the funding is being used in the most effective way possible reduce disease and improve health in communities. The prevention and wellness funding was one of the smartest investments that the President and Congress could've made to help our nation become more competitive and productive in the 21st century.