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Public Health Rep. 2001 Jan-Feb; 116(1): 22–31.
PMCID: PMC1497286

The role of state public health agencies in genetics and disease prevention: results of a national survey.


OBJECTIVES: The onset and severity of the clinical expression of most diseases that are of public health importance are influenced by genetic predisposition. The ability to assess human genetic predisposition for many diseases is increasing rapidly. Therefore, state public health agencies should be incorporating new developments in genetics and disease prevention into their core functions of assessment, policy development, and assurance. The authors assessed the status of this process. METHODS: The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) surveyed states about projects and concerns related to genetics and public health activities. Respondents were the Health Officer, the Maternal and Child Health/Genetics Program Director, the Chronic Disease Program Director, and the Laboratory Director. Where applicable, responses were categorized into assessment, policy development, and assurance functions. RESULTS: Thirty-eight (76%) state health departments responded. Ongoing genetics activities were assurance (82%), assessment (17%), and policy development (2%). In contrast, Health Officers responded that future genetics activities would be distributed differently: assurance, 41%; assessment, 36%; and policy development, 23%. Future assurance activities would be largely educational. Topics of interest and recently initiated activities in genetics were primarily assessment functions. Funding was the greatest concern, followed by lack of proven disease prevention measures and outcomes data. CONCLUSIONS: State health departments recognize a need to realign their activities to meet future developments in genetics. Lack of adequate resources, proven disease prevention measures, and outcomes data are potential barriers. Public health agencies need to develop a strategic plan to meet the opportunities associated with the development and implementation of genetic tests and procedures.

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