Promoting Improved Public Health Through Education, Research, and Service

Naming Ceremony for the IU Bloomington School of Public Health
Mobley Auditorium
School of Public Health
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
September 28, 2012


“At the turn of the [19th to 20th] century,” as science writer Robin Marantz Henig writes, “a newborn baby girl had a life expectancy of 44 years; today, her life expectancy at birth is 80. This improvement is not a medical victory; it is a public health victory.”

”By the time doctors armed themselves with antibiotics and vaccines in the 1940s and 1950s,” Henig continues, “most of the advances against infectious disease already had been made by the sanitarians who cleaned up the filth of the cities and the countryside, ensured that the drinking water was clean and that wastes were safely disposed of, and limited the spread of waste-borne microorganisms.”1

Despite this impressive string of victories, which also included the conquest of smallpox, the advent of safer workplaces, and growing ability to treat AIDS, many serious 21st century public health challenges remain.

As evidenced by today’s celebration, Indiana University is deeply committed to helping to meet those challenges.

Today, we gather to celebrate the transformation of the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation into a school of public health and to formally name the school, the School of Public Health–IU Bloomington.  

From HPER to Public Health: Continuing The Tradition of Excellence

The School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation has had a long and distinguished history. The school’s roots go back at least to the late 1800s when IU’s seventh president David Starr Jordan recommended the construction of men’s and women’s gymnasiums. Eventually, separate departments of physical education for men and women were formed under the auspices of the School of Education. 

After World War II, IU’s enrollment grew rapidly, and in 1946, in an era when schools of physical and health education were being formed as part of universities across the nation, the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation was established. It was the only new school created in Bloomington during the presidency of Herman B Wells.

HPER grew to become one of the leading schools of its kind, with all of its departments highly ranked and internationally recognized.

Since those early days, the school grew from 279 students when it opened in 1946 to over 2,500 students today and over 20,000 living alumni.

However, in recent years, as public health experienced growth and became a central professional discipline within the health sciences, schools of physical and health education around the country have expanded well beyond their traditional roots to embrace a variety of public health issues. This, in turn, has led to a number of such schools transitioning into schools of public health. The School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation has experienced similar growth and expansion in the public health fields in recent decades, and today, the school joins in this nationwide transformation.

The school’s faculty and students have always seen issues of physical education and recreation through the lens of public health. This name change recognizes this fact and recognizes the contributions the school has made to public health over the course of more than six decades. The school's evolving mission is a shining example of the responsibility of public universities to meet the changing needs of society.

The Urgent Statewide Need for Improved Public Health

This transformation is driven, in part, by a desire to address declining indicators of public health in the United States.

As you will undoubtedly hear from our subsequent speakers, there is an urgent need for improved public health nationally, and specifically in the state of Indiana. By a number of different measures, Indiana is considered one of the least healthy states in the nation.

It has been estimated, for example, that obesity adds $190 billion to the annual cost of healthcare in the United States.2 Nearly 1.5 million adults in Indiana are obese, nearly half a million more individuals than ten years ago.3 Obesity, of course, contributes to heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory infections, and stroke—the leading causes of death in Indiana.

Rates of diabetes and preventable hospitalization are also continuing to rise in the state, and we rank among the states with the highest prevalence of smoking. Tobacco use, of course, is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.4

According to the United Health Foundation, Indiana ranks only 38th on its total health index. This is Indiana’s lowest rank in the last 25 years. The continuing declines we see in many of these health determinants lend a sense of urgency to our efforts to address the underlying problems.5 

Addressing The Critical Need Through Schools of Public Health

Schools of public health can help to address these critical issues in a number of ways.

The first is through the education of public health professionals. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Indiana has insufficient numbers of public health workers to meet the state’s public health challenges. The School of Public Health—IU Bloomington will help to rectify this situation by attracting new students and by preparing an appropriately educated and trained public health workforce. 

Another major way schools of public health contribute to improving public health is, of course, through research. Scientific investigation is and always has been central to public health. Schools of public health and their graduates conduct multidisciplinary research that adds to the body of public health knowledge and provides a scientific foundation for public health activities. Researchers, for example, might measure the distribution of disease events in a population, bring together necessary experts from disparate fields, and design and implement interventions that are based on sound evidence. 

Schools of public health also contribute to the economic development of the states in which they are located through the promotion of a healthier workforce and the containment of rapidly increasing employer health care costs.

In addition to the poor public health markers I have mentioned, the state of Indiana ranks 50th in terms of federal public health funding received. The Bloomington School of Public Health will enable Indiana University to compete for federal and foundation funding that is open only to schools of public health, thereby increasing public health spending for Hoosiers.

In fact, we have already seen impressive results in this area. Last month, we welcomed nutritional epidemiologist Ka He to the faculty as the first chair of the new Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health-Bloomington. Just last week, we were pleased to learn that Professor He has received a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine trace element distribution in relation to the risk for stroke for residents of the nation's "stroke belt," a region of unusually high stroke mortality. We congratulate Professor He and we look forward to celebrating the additional grants that his colleagues in the school will undoubtedly attract—and the impact their research will have on public health.

Indiana University's Schools of Public Health

Until this fall, there were no schools of public health in the state of Indiana. Now, there are two:  both at Indiana University.

Yesterday, we celebrated the establishment of the Fairbanks School of Public Health on the IUPUI campus. We are deeply grateful for the generous support of the Indianapolis-based Fairbanks Foundation, particularly for their 2010 gift of $20 million in support of establishing a school of public health on the IUPUI campus.

The School of Public Health—IU Bloomington will focus on rural community health, building upon existing program strengths in behavioral health, environmental health, wellness, and epidemiology.

The Fairbanks School of Public Health will have a distinctly different and complementary focus, and will focus more on urban health, health policy, and biostatistics.

Both schools will allow us to more effectively mobilize the great breadth and depth of expertise that exists within Indiana University to address public health problems that impact the state of Indiana and its citizens. Together, the two schools will allow Indiana University to approach education and research in public health in a comprehensive way.

The School of Public Health at IU Bloomington will serve as a focus for collaboration in teaching, research, and service for other academic units on the Bloomington campus, and its faculty and staff will continue to engage in service and outreach that improve lives.    

Special Thanks

I am deeply grateful to Interim Dean Mohammed Torabi for his leadership of the school during this period of transition from the School of HPER to the School of Public Health.

I also wish to thank the previous dean, Bob Goodman, for his initial contributions that set this transition in motion.

Let me also express my deep gratitude to Vice President Ed Marshall, who has served as chair of the IU Public Health Coordinating Council, and to all the members of the council who have overseen our efforts to establish this school.     


The School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation has indeed had a rich history on the Bloomington campus. Included in that rich history are many endeavors that have greatly enhanced the health of Indiana’s citizens. 

As we reimagine Indiana University for the 21st century, the School of Public Health-IU Bloomington—bolstered by epidemiology and other highly effective tools of public health, and by its outstanding faculty, students, and staff—will help lead the way in cultivating a healthier citizenry in Indiana and across the nation. 

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Robin Marantz Henig, The People's Health: A Memoir of Public Health and Its Evolution at Harvard, (Joseph Henry Press, 1997), 2-3. The book, published in 1997, listed the average female life expectancy at 78. It is now 80.8. See
  2. Sharon Begley, “As America’s Waistline Expands, Costs Soar,” Reuters, April 30, 2012, Accessed September 21, 2012, URL:
  3. America’s Health Rankings 2011, United Health Foundation, available online at, retrieved September 21, 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.