The New Year is fast approaching and people often treat it as an opportunity to make a fresh start. That’s what resolutions are about and whether people admit to making them or not, the act of flipping the calendar to a new year tends to encourage people to set a few new goals.

Leading that list for the vast majority is losing weight, exercising more and living a healthier lifestyle. That’s especially true for aging baby boomers.

In that vein, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just released its “Healthy People 2020”  program. The basic goal is for the United States to “achieve better health by the year 2020. ”The program’s official vision statement is “A society in which all people live long, healthy lives.”

The overreaching goals are:

• Attain high quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury and premature death.
• Achieve health equity, eliminate disparities and improve the health of all groups.
• Create social and physical environments that promote good health for all.
• Promote quality of life, healthy development and healthy behaviors across all life stages.

The Healthy People program is not new; it’s actually been around for 30 years. It’s organized in 10-year implementation periods. So, 2010 is ending one and 2020 is starting a new phase.

A trip to the Healthy People website offers a long list of areas—from “access to health services” to “tobacco use”-- that the program addresses. For the next decade, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, says “our challenge and opportunity is to avoid preventable diseases from occurring in the first place.”

More specifically, she’s talking about chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. According to HHS, those diseases are responsible for seven out of every 10 U.S. deaths annually and they account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending.

Be aware that animal-based food products are often associated, rightly or wrongly, with those ailments.

There also is a strong food-safety element in the program. For example, the American Meat Institute cites the goal and targets to reduce infections by key pathogens transmitted commonly through food. The 2020 targets focus on specific pathogen reductions based on the average cases of illnesses from 2006 to 2008 reported to FoodNet.

Here are the 2020 targets per 100,000 population:

                                                2009 Actual   2010 Target   2020 Target
Campylobacter                      13.02                12.3                     8.5
E. coli O157:H7                        0.9                    1.0                     0.6
Listeria monocytogenes        0.34                   0.24                   0.2
Salmonella                              15.19                  6.8                    11.4

“For the first time, health objectives to reduce the number of outbreak-associated infections specific to food commodity groups were added, specifically for reduction due to E. coli O157, Campylobacter, Listeria or Salmonella,” AMI notes.

Here are those targets (note the baseline years are 2005 to 2007):
                                                  Baseline Data               2020 Targets
 Beef                                              200                                     180
 Dairy                                            786                                       707
 Leafy Vegetables                      205                                       185
 Poultry                                         258                                        232
 Fruit and Nuts                           311                                         280

I am not saying that Healthy People is an anti-meat campaign. I think it’s smart to try to help Americans improve their health, quality of life and reduce health-care spending. Also, this is not just a federal program, a coalition of health agencies, including state agencies are part of the process. In fact, Iowa was the first state to release its own plan—Healthy Iowans 2010.

The Healthy People program is organized and developed based on input and guidance from researchers, organizations, health providers and experts, as well as the public.

So, what I am saying is that animal agriculture must be active in that mix. Animal agriculture needs to get a healthy start. That may require making some changes in messages and directions, but most importantly be part of the dialogue, research and development.

You may not have heard about HHS’ Healthy People program in the past, and wonder what kind of impact could have? Well most of it is in the background development of other food- and health-related programs. But today, between the Internet, 24/7 cable news programming, social networks and the world of apps, information spreads deeper and wider than ever before. (Yes, there’s going to be an app “myHealthyPeople”.)

Let’s face it, we all have room to work to become healthier—or to create a workplace that encourages healthier employees. The program is set up for companies, communities, organizations and others to find ideas and resources to do just that.

Those of us in animal agriculture need to be aware of and involved in such programs today, in the new year and beyond.