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Larry Cohen is founder and Executive Director of Prevention Institute, a national non-profit dedicated to improving community health and equity through effective primary prevention: taking action to build resilience and to prevent illness and injury before they occur. With an emphasis on health equity, Larry has led many successful public health efforts at the local, state, and federal level on injury and violence prevention, mental health, traffic safety, and food and physical activity-related chronic disease prevention.


Prior to founding Prevention Institute in 1997, Larry formed the first U.S. coalition to change tobacco policy and created the nation's first multi-city smoking ban. He established the Food and Nutrition Policy Consortium, which catalyzed the nation's food labeling law. Larry also helped shape vehicle safety policy, including strategy to secure passage of bicycle and motorcycle helmet laws, and strengthen child and adult passenger restraint laws. Larry has received numerous awards, including the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Section Public Service Award from the American Public Health Association, and is the lead editor of Prevention Is Primary: Strategies for Community Well-being.


Prevention Institute provides resources, conceptual frameworks, and tools to help communities address the underlying causes of health inequities. Prevention Institute has also successfully led state and national efforts to incorporate a focus on and investment in primary prevention as a significant part of health care reform and stimulus funding for communities.

Entries by Larry Cohen

Smoking Bans and Car-Seat Bribes: 5 Lessons From the 50-Year Effort to Reduce Smoking and Save Lives

(0) Comments | Posted January 10, 2014 | 1:59 PM

With Rob Waters

2014-01-10-350pxSmoking_Dangers__1905.jpgFifty years ago this week, Surgeon General Luther Terry released perhaps the most important public health document in U.S. history, the now-famous first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health. It made explicit and public what virtually every...

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New Soda Tax Makes Mexico a Leading Guardian of Public Health

(1) Comments | Posted November 22, 2013 | 5:33 PM

This month the new government of Mexico made history. In the country that consumes more soda per capita than any in the world, where the former president had been the top executive for Coca-Cola, the national Congress struck a blow for public health by passing a one-peso-per-liter tax on soda...

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Shutdown Power Play: Stoking Racism, Fear of Culture Change to Push Anti-Government Agenda

(8) Comments | Posted October 14, 2013 | 1:56 PM

Co-authored by Rob Waters

At first it seemed mystifying that reasonable voices didn't prevail to prevent a government shutdown. The scorched-earth effort by the Tea Party caucus and compliant Congressional leaders to undo President Obama's signature accomplishment didn't seem smart in terms of outcome or politics. The anti-government zealots who...

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Policy Change Is Key If We Want to Reduce Preventable Deaths

(1) Comments | Posted September 23, 2013 | 1:22 PM

A study just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 200,000 Americans die prematurely from heart disease and stroke each year. Every three minutes, someone's spouse or parent or child dies in a way that experts say is avoidable. More than...

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The AMA Says Obesity Is a Disease. Now Can We Talk About Prevention?

(13) Comments | Posted July 19, 2013 | 4:54 PM

The American Medical Association sparked headlines last month when it voted to officially classify obesity as a disease. The AMA's action highlights the different directions we can take in trying to improve health and prevent chronic illness. We can approach the health problems that stem from unhealthy eating...

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The Safety Illusion: That SUV Won't Protect You From Climate Change

(12) Comments | Posted April 19, 2013 | 1:48 PM

Worried about climate change? No need to get political, or overly concerned. Just climb into the protective bubble of a Land Rover and isolate yourself from the world. You'll be safe, even as the winds of a changing climate swirl around you and buffet your fellow citizens.


That's the basic message of the latest Land Rover ad. In case you missed it, here's the gist: Severe weather is coming and everyone's getting worried. TV meteorologists issue warnings, worried parents grab supplies off the shelves. Amidst all this anxiety, one woman goes about her day, unconcerned by the rough winds and coming downpour. Why? She's got a Land Rover.

The commercial preys on the public's growing awareness about climate change. Indeed, a recent Stanford University poll found that 82 percent of Americans believe climate change is already occurring and they want government to take steps to address it. Of course, the Land Rover ad says nothing about the fact that gas-guzzling SUVs boost demand for fossil fuel, damage the environment and cause road-related injuries -- while doing nothing to encourage the healthy physical activity we all need.

President Obama announced recently that over the next decade he intends to put $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas royalties to pay for research on vehicles powered by alternative, non-fossil fuels. While that's a reasonable policy, if we really want to make the planet and its people healthier, we need more than new technology. We must also invest in efforts that get people out of their cars and support walking, biking and public transit -- activities that reduce our environmental impact and rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Nearly half of all Americans don't get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day (the amount recommended by the Surgeon General), but those who regularly take public transportation do -- simply by walking to and from transit locations. And, with increased activity comes lowered health care costs. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison found that if the inhabitants of 11 urban and suburban communities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin switched to bikes for 50 percent of all short trips between April and October, the states would save a combined $3.8 billion by preventing deaths and reducing health care costs. That same study found that if driving was replaced by biking, walking and public transit for all short trips in the same time period, the overall net health benefit from improved air quality would be $4.9 billion per year.

Safe pedestrian infrastructure also helps prevent injuries. After new traffic lights, pedestrian signals and speed bumps were installed near New York City schools, kids' injuries dropped by one third. Other research suggests that improving streets to better accommodate cyclists could make streets safer for everyone and reduce injuries overall.

Investing in walkable, bike-able streets also boosts local economies. In New York City, businesses on Eight and Ninth Avenues noted a 50 percent increase in sales receipts after the installation of protected bike lanes on the corridor. In Portland, Ore. -- famous for its biking culture -- a 2008 study found that bike-related industry contributes significantly to the local economy, providing 850 to 1150 jobs and generating about $90 million a year. In Iowa, the use of bikes saves $70 million in health care costs and generates $1 million each day for the state, according to an economic impact study released last year.

Sadly, there is a kernel of truth in Land Rover's recent campaign: Fear has long motivated people to lock themselves in their cars and drive. Violence and fear of violence impede physical activity and increase the use of cars. When people feel unsafe in their neighborhoods, they are less likely to walk or bike. This especially impacts people most vulnerable to violence in the first place, like children, women, people with disabilities and older adults. Fear of violence increases car use by those who can afford it, boosting the number of cars on the road, along with carbon dioxide emissions and unintentional injuries. Instead, we need to promote active transportation and invest in strategies that prevent violence before it occurs. The best "land rovers" humans possess are connected to our hips. The best way to stay healthy -- and keep our planet healthy -- is to use our legs. That means we need streets that support our ability to walk and ride bikes safely -- not bigger, fiercer cars.

We now have an opportunity to promote walking: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking public comments to frame an anticipated National Call to Action by the Surgeon General aimed at identifying "opportunities and actions that can be taken... to increase walking and walkability throughout the nation by providing access to safe, attractive and convenient places to walk." Submit comments (here) by April 30, 2013.

There is a potent and dangerous illusion in Land Rover's ad: that we can deal with all threats by driving away from them. It won't work when we have wrecked our planet or ruined our health. We need safe, resilient people, buildings and communities -- that's the only strategy that will keep us truly...

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Obama Points to Minneapolis as a Model for Reducing Youth Violence

(4) Comments | Posted February 7, 2013 | 5:14 PM

President Obama picked the right place when he took his campaign to reduce gun violence to Minneapolis on Monday. City and community leaders there have organized a remarkably effective effort to prevent youth violence, cutting the number of shootings and homicides of young people in a city that once earned...

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Newtown Was an Atrocity; Violence Is a Daily Scourge. We Can and Must Change This Picture

(0) Comments | Posted December 20, 2012 | 2:14 PM

2012-12-20-candles2.jpgFive days after unspeakable violence was visited on children and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, we as a nation are beginning to move from shock and horror to thinking about the policy changes we must make to reduce the corrosive presence of...

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Please, Don't Diss the Water

(2) Comments | Posted September 13, 2012 | 3:08 PM

Say you just got off a plane at the Seattle-Tacoma airport and are feeling thirsty. You head for the nearest water fountain and are confronted with this:

2012-09-10-tullystarbucks.jpg
Photo credit: Dominic Holden, The Stranger.


I'm not quite sure which whipped cream-topped...

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Implications from Aurora

(2) Comments | Posted July 31, 2012 | 10:35 PM

The initial reaction to the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado, seems eerily familiar. Our hearts ache with sympathy for the Aurora community and for victims and loved ones, and our minds churn with questions about the shooter's state of mind. This reaction is what we have learned to do and...

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Big Pharma: Take it Back -- Protect Our Water and Health

(1) Comments | Posted July 26, 2012 | 4:45 PM

Alameda County, Calif. -- where Prevention Institute is based -- has become the first U.S. county to require safe medication disposal. This critical legislation, designed to "take back drugs and take back lives," will charge drug companies for the safe collection and disposal of unused medications. Safe collection and disposal...

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Growing Up Injury-Free in the 21st Century

(0) Comments | Posted June 27, 2012 | 11:15 AM

Earlier this month, the European Safety Alliance released Child Safety Report Cards for 31 countries -- and here in the U.S., we would do well to learn from this far-reaching, comprehensive thinking. When many Americans hear the word health, we reflexively think of disease. But it is equally...

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Soda: Size Does Matter

(29) Comments | Posted June 3, 2012 | 4:42 PM

"New York City is not about wringing your hands; it's about doing something."

That's what Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last Wednesday while introducing the city's plan to cap serving sizes of sugary drinks at 16 ounces. My first thought was, "That's true, and I am so proud to...

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Creeps and Weirdos: The Auto Industry Agenda for Keeping You on Four Wheels

(5) Comments | Posted February 2, 2012 | 11:33 AM

Recently, Dr. Richard Jackson, a friend and colleague (a leading expert in health and the built environment) received a letter from his building's management demanding he move his bike -- from leaning against the wall of his rented parking spot. Though he lives in LA, he doesn't own...

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Reporters Can Do Better: New Report on Media Coverage of Sandusky

(4) Comments | Posted January 12, 2012 | 12:35 PM

2012-01-11-images-pamelapic2.jpgThis article was co-authored with Pamela Mejia. Mejia is a Research Associate at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, where she analyzes how the media talks about public health and social issues. She was a lead author on "Breaking News on Child Sexual...

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House Payroll Tax Vote Compromises Health

(1) Comments | Posted December 15, 2011 | 9:47 AM

Who turns down a $50 billion savings for the country? Who turns down the opportunity for better health for all Americans? The House did, on Tuesday, as the majority of representatives voted to gut the Prevention and Public Health Fund as a means to pay for increased doctors' Medicare reimbursement,...

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Lifting the Veil of Secrecy: Stopping Sexual Abuse in Sports and Every Institution

(4) Comments | Posted December 6, 2011 | 2:00 PM

"When you have a veil of secrecy, you have the potential for abusive behavior whether it's in the Catholic church, a school or whatever, and that applies to all of us, not just the NCAA," NCAA President Mark Emmert told reporters Monday in Indianapolis.

As I've been watching...

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We're Not Buying It: Stop Junk Food Marketing to Kids

(3) Comments | Posted October 10, 2011 | 6:19 PM

Prevention Institute parents, advocates, public health officials and organizations across the country are calling for President Obama to step in and protect voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. Sign the petition and join us.

Why? Food companies are deceiving kids. And they're making a huge profit doing...

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For Want of a Crosswalk, a Life was Lost

(0) Comments | Posted August 2, 2011 | 3:24 PM

A mother crosses in the middle of the street carrying her baby, with her four year old separate and adrift. The four year old is hit, and, horrifically, killed by a drunk driver. Raquel Nelson is the Atlanta-area mom, who was convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old...

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Food Industry: Walk the Talk to Protect Our Kids' Health

(5) Comments | Posted July 11, 2011 | 5:40 PM

Federal guidelines that would help support healthy foods for kids are under attack.

Voluntary guidelines proposed by the FTC, USDA, FDA and other agencies last April will, if companies follow them, ensure that foods marketed to kids contain real food ingredients including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They'll also limit...

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