Bloomberg Gives $300M to Launch 5-Part Public Health Agenda at Hopkins

The Bloomberg American Health Initiative would cover research on obesity, gun violence, environmental threats, adolescent health, and drug addiction.

Media titan and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $300 million to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to fund a public health agenda in line with causes he has long supported: fighting drug addiction, obesity, gun violence, and environmental threats, and promoting adolescent health.

The gift to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health coincides with the centennial of the school’s founding and will create the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, which recognizes that US life expectancy is falling behind the rest of the developed world.

“By spreading smart public health strategies that save lives and bringing people together to try new approaches, we can make the same strikes in the 21st century against health threats like air pollution, gun violence, and obesity that we did in the 20th century against polio and other infectious diseases,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

As NYC mayor, Bloomberg supported issues like urging people to drink less soda and reducing the number of illegal firearms on city streets. Some efforts were more well-received than others. Ten years ago, he and then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns with just 15 elected leaders; the group has grown to more than 1000 members. But an ordinance pushed through to limit soda portions was lampooned as a sign of the “nanny state” and ultimately overturned by the courts.

Once out of office, Bloomberg matched his financial muscle with the soda industry to pass taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico and in Berkeley, California. Early studies have shown the taxes have reduced soda consumption, considered a major contributor to childhood obesity.

The new gift has 3 parts:

  • A $100 million endowment will fund 50 public health fellows a year, nominated from local organizations, to earn their Masters Public Health degrees. Those nominated must be committed to returning to their communities to work in public health for at least 1 year.
  • A $125 million endowment to fund faculty and research in the 5 target areas and jumpstart research needs. This is especially acute in the area of research on gun violence, because of a longstanding budget language from Congress that bans CDC from funding research “to advocate or promote gun control,” which has had the effect of ending such work.
  • A $75 million gift to establish scholarships for John Hopkins’ new Doctor of Public Health program and a biennial public health summit that will gather the school’s fellows, faculty, and organizational partners for work on major public health issues.

The issue areas the initiative will tackle are among the most pressing in the United States today. Headlines about the cost of obesity and chronic disease, opioid addiction and overdose, and violence in American cities occur daily. Details on the agenda say the adolescent health program would include research on ways to prevent teenage suicide.

Michael Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called the initiative, “an unprecedented collaboration of world-renowned faculty, community organizations and future public health leaders. Our ambitious goal: improve American health, from coast to coast, with evidence-based solutions.”