University of Houston: ‘UH Population Health’ to Advance Health Equity

The University of Houston has launched UH Population Health, a first-of-its-kind initiative to advance health equity in Houston, the state of Texas and beyond through a holistic approach to health and well-being.

Unlike any other university in the country, UH is taking a multifaceted, University-wide approach to reduce health disparities and health care costs by addressing the full range of factors that affect health, such as access to healthy food, healthy behaviors, the environment, the health care system and other key factors.

“I am so proud that the University of Houston has accepted the challenge to lead a national effort to improve health patterns and trends for everyone. This is a bold step forward for our University, for our students and faculty and for the various communities we serve and impact through our work,” said Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston.

The U.S. spends more on health care than any other developed nation in the world but has some of the poorest health outcomes among wealthy countries. A resounding 70% of health outcomes are determined by factors other than health care and genetics — things like lifestyle, environment and access. Bettina Beech, chief population health officer at UH, said more health care does not buy better health.

Graphic: 70% of health outcomes have to do with factors other than health care and genetics.
“The numbers add up to one inexorable fact: Health is a social, not just medical matter,” said Beech, who is also a clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the UH College of Medicine. “UH Population Health is a better approach to better health. We will work together to build healthier communities and a stronger society by focusing on health equity.”

The University’s comprehensive approach includes the integration of population health courses and new degree programs, enhanced population health research interventions, collaborations with multiple sectors and the development of digital solutions for chronic disease management.

“Our goal is for UH undergraduate students to gain experience in population health in the way it aligns with their major, so that our graduates carry this knowledge into the workforce and become agents of change,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Bettina Beech, UH chief population health officer
Bettina Beech, UH chief population health officer

“UH Population Health stands at the precipice of leaving an indelible mark on our community and the world.”
Bettina Beech, clinical professor in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the UH College of Medicine.
UH is currently working on 27 population health research grants totaling nearly $37 million. From National Institutes of Health-funded projects that aim to ensure the technology of machine learning benefits everyone and bolster the pipeline of diverse health faculty researchers in the field of obesity health disparities, to a pending CDC-funded national initiative to address COVID-19 health disparities among high-risk populations, Beech is seeking to increase the population health research portfolio across the campus.

By harnessing the intellectual power of multiple disciplines at the University’s 16 academic colleges and schools, Beech believes the University of Houston will emerge as a world-class producer of diverse health and health care leaders equipped to build and maintain healthy populations.

“We are creating a space for internal and external thought leaders to gather, co-create, test and launch evidence-based solutions for chronic disease self-management,” she said. “Improving our nation’s health will take a concerted effort, but UH Population Health stands at the precipice of leaving an indelible mark on our community and the world.”

The inaugural UH Population Health external advisory committee is a who’s who of nationally-recognized health experts: Dr. Roy Beveridge, former chief medical officer at Humana; Sally Shumaker, professor and principal investigator of the Women’s Health Initiative at Wake Forest University; Dr. Keith Norris, professor and executive vice chair of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA; and, Dr. Tamara Baer, McKinsey & Company, Boston Children’s Hospital.


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