A healthy work force is foundational to the next economy of Northern Inland California (and to any economy in our world). We do not have a healthy work force. Our region, including the entire Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, is rated among the lowest of counties in California and the nation by several assessments including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation county by county comparison.

While the incidence of cigarette smoking has decreased inCalifornia, the health inequities are glaringly obvious in the higher rates of smoking in low socio-economic regions and within vulnerable youth. The demographics of our young people reflect high rates of high school drop out, lower rates of college matriculation, high unemployment and high rates of smoking and obesity. We cannot satisfy work force needs if our young people are not healthy and well educated.

And in our already employed work force cigarette use erodes the economy by accelerating the rate of lost days of work due to chronic illness, for example 1) acute and chronic bronchitis (COPD), 2) complications of diabetes exacerbated by the huge adverse impact of cigarette smoking (more than any other factor for large blood vessel disease such as heart attack and stroke), 3) chronic congestive heart failure, and 4) premature death due to cancer and cardio-vascular-pulmonary disease.

Research may well solve some of health care enigmas. How many of us have known a young woman in her 30s or 40s stuck down by lung cancer? The epidemic of lung cancer in young women without a history of cigarette smoking is tragic and without known cause.  Cancer research will dissect the complex interaction between environmental factors, second hand smoke, and inherited genetic actors that collaborate to rob us of our beloved mothers/wives/partners/daughters.

UC Davis is a research power house including an enhanced designation as an NCI designated comprehensive cancer center, with our partner cancer centers up and down the Valley and with our VA hospital. The entire UC Davis community already works across disciplines (engineering, health sciences, agriculture, vet medicine, biology, and humanities) to drive real solutions to societal problems. Our region has an opportunity to emerge from the economic downturn as one of the newest hubs for recombinant innovation, the collaboration between diverse professions and increasingly the power of collaboration between all 10 UC campuses.

The right kind of policy will provide rewarding and high paying jobs anchored in science and technology, stimulate our economy, improve the health of our work force through prevention, treatment and public health, and promote academic and private partnerships.

However, in addition to research, good individual and community health is most of all determined by societal factors such as the eradication of poverty, higher educational attainment, access to healthy life styles, and most importantly a policy agenda that supports the public health. We need policies that will support the future of the Valley’s economy, the future of a healthy work force, and a future without health inequities.