What Should We Talk about When We Talk about Health?

The Science for the Public 2018 Science Lectures at MIT January 30, 2018 MIT BLDG 54: Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences bldg

Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, Robert A Knox Professor, and Dean of School of Public Health, Boston University.

Dr. Galea is an international leader in the field of public health. His perspective --that personal health is significantly influenced by social, economic and environmental factors-- is especially important today. In this seminar he explains why we have to consider the link between the individual and a broader context if we are to improve health, at both the global as well as local levels.

Why do we care so much about health, spend so much money on it, and yet do worse at it than essentially any other peer country? Why have we been spending ever more on health and getting ever less healthy as a country? It is, at heart, because we are thinking about our health the wrong way. We keep thinking that to improve our health we can focus only on our individual selves. And therefore, if only I took care of my lifestyle, and I invested enough money to make sure I have the right medicine when I need it, I am going to be healthier and live longer. And that is the wrong approach. If we want to make sure we promote health, we need to look beyond medicine, beyond how we can make ourselves better once we are already sick and think carefully about the forces around us that create a healthy world. We need to understand the aspects of the world that can genuinely get us on the path towards healthy living and keep us there. And to do so we need to talk about some very different things than we talk about right now when we talk about health. We need to talk about money, power, politics, pain and pleasure, what we value, how we live, and about where we live. We need to change our script on health. This presentation is a step in that direction.


Dr Galea is a physician and an epidemiologist. In his scholarship, Dr Galea is centrally interested in the social production of health of urban populations, with a focus on the causes of brain disorders, particularly common mood-anxiety disorders and substance abuse. He has long had a particular interest in the consequences of mass trauma and conflict worldwide, including as a result of the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, and the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This work has been principally funded by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and several foundations. He has published over 650 scientific journal articles, 50 chapters, and 12 books and his research has been featured extensively in current periodicals and newspapers.