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5 End-of-Year Questions for Dr. Kelly Henning on Public Health

From tackling air pollution to banning e-cigarettes in California, this year has been full of successes. As we look back on all that our teams have accomplished and the progress we’re still committed to making, we’re kicking off a new series of interviews with program and initiative leads across Bloomberg Philanthropies. They’ll discuss what inspires their work, their proudest achievements this year, and how they’ll carve a path forward for their work in 2023. They even recommend something you, our readers, should check out in the new year!


Dr. Kelly Henning

Our first interview is with Dr. Kelly Henning, who has led our Public Health program since its inception in 2007. She is a medical doctor and epidemiologist trained in internal medicine, infectious diseases, and public health.

1. What accomplishments from 2022 are you most proud of?

After a nearly two-year battle, California’s ban on flavored tobacco was upheld by voters in November. Our partner, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), provided substantial support in California beginning in 2019 to pass one of the nation’s first statewide bans on flavored tobacco. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry successfully delayed the implementation of this ban by almost immediately qualifying it for a ballot referendum. Because of Mike Bloomberg’s financial support and CTFK’s technical and political assistance, the ban was recently upheld by more than 60% of voters, paving the way for more statewide bans to be passed in the future!

In addition, 2022 was a big year for our Food Policy Program (FPP) globally, and particularly in Colombia, where our partners secured two major policy wins and a landmark legal decision. In August, the Ministry of Health issued a strong draft regulation for front-of-package labels (FOPL) using stop signs to warn consumers about products that contain excessive amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Following a period of public consultation, the final regulation is expected to be published on December 15th.

The FOPL effort will be bolstered by the recent court decision ordering the Ministry of Health to create a committee to monitor the implementation of FOPL, free of influence by the food and beverage industry. The decision responds to a class action claim brought by our partner Red Papaz and marks the first time a court is authorizing civil society organizations to monitor a public health regulation. Three of our partner organizations will participate in the committee. In early November, following six years of advocacy by our partners, Colombia’s congress approved a tax on sugary drinks and ultra-processed products, making it one of a handful of countries to tax both types of products.

2. Who or what inspired or influenced your work this past year?

The Bloomberg American Health Summit, held in Philadelphia in December, was incredibly inspiring this year. It was terrific to be back in person together after hosting a virtual Summit for three years.

There are two Fellows from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative who stood out. Alyssa Auvinen, an Alum of the Fellowship program who works for the Washington State Health Department, is focused on building community coalitions to support food systems. She is implementing a program using medical prescriptions for the purchase of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables that can help lower income residents suffering disproportionately from diet-related chronic conditions better manage their disease. It’s an innovative program being evaluated and is showing great promise for improving patients’ diets, food security, disease management, and engagement with the healthcare system, while reducing healthcare costs.

I also really enjoyed learning about Paula Torrado’s work – she is a current Fellow working in Los Angeles as the Air and Toxics Policy Analyst at Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles. Paula works to address the unhealthy pollution burden in South Central Los Angeles, an area that has 800 old, antiquated, and polluting oil wells – causing respiratory and other health effects in low-income residents. Her group along with a coalition of others has recently pushed through a bill to retire these wells. She is a passionate advocate who is learning how to support her work with data.

3. What are you looking forward to in 2023?

I am looking forward to expanding our work in drowning prevention. On February 22, 2022, the Government of Bangladesh approved a $32 million drowning prevention program that will incorporate the 2,500 daycares Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded since 2012 and expand it to include an additional 5,500 daycares. In total 200,000 children aged 1-4 will be enrolled in daycare – and will be kept away from the danger zones where 10,000 children (aged 1-4) drown every year. I am excited about the fact that we will support the government over the next three years to rollout this expanded, government-owned program!

4. What are some trends or challenges you believe we’ll see in the year ahead?

We are very closely watching overdose trends in the U.S. We need to monitor overdose numbers and rates in 2023 as COVID-19 (hopefully) continues to wane. There are opportunities to enhance access to treatment for substance use disorder but it will take ongoing federal and local commitment to make this work.

5. What is a piece of media or culture you experienced this past year that you would recommend our readers check out in 2023?

I recommend listening to the Public Health on Call podcast. The primary hosts are Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative; and Stephanie Desmon, director of public relations and marketing for the Johns Hopkins Communications Programs and a former journalist. Josh and Stephanie tackle complex topics in relatable, engaging ways, bringing real-world perspective, and countering misinformation. The show launched in the early days of COVID-19 and today has published more than 550 episodes keeping the public informed on the latest in public health.