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HEALTH

2023 Aspen Ideas: Health Program Tracks

Aspen Ideas: Health's 2023 programming will be designed around seven timely and thought-provoking themes that speak to this unique moment in health, medicine, and science.

Power of Design

Systems that are easy to navigate, devices that are friendly to their users, and spaces that are pleasing to the eye all send a message that says, “We care. All are welcome. There is reason to trust to us.” Thoughtful design—whether expressed as ready access to patient-centered health care settings, safe and efficient medical services, responsive technology, art in public spaces, or greenways—can break down barriers and elevate a sense of inclusion. By reimagining the blueprint for how we build health, we can prioritize equity, foster effective communication, boost the spirit, and promote individual and community well-being.

Science of Tomorrow

Setting audacious goals helps to redefine what is achievable. When we aim to cure chronic diseases or extend life expectancy by many decades, we plant the seeds for revolutionary advances, even if we don’t actually realize our boldest hopes. Artificial intelligence is our partner, allowing us to aggregate, analyze, and apply vast amounts of data. As we deepen knowledge of the human genome, unravel the mysteries of the brain and the heart, and target new vaccines and therapeutics to once intractable diseases, we push out the boundaries of knowledge. Moonshots underway in cancer, nutrition, and health equity could be game changers, taking us far beyond what is possible today.

The Healing Economy

The quest for profits, commitments to social impact, and consumer preference are driving unprecedented change in healthcare as investors pour in money, start-ups and big tech upend traditional delivery models, and a generation of young people turn to apps to broaden their knowledge and access care in new ways. We are thinking differently about what supports health, redirecting resources into social determinants like education, access to food, and housing, researching psychedelics and legalizing cannabis, stimulating vast new markets in complementary therapies, and redesigning pathways to global prosperity. As the economics of health shifts, workforce needs, professional training strategies, private sector engagement, and the employer role are also being transformed.

Planet Health

The circumference of Planet Earth is a mere 25,000 miles, a speck in the universe with the skies, seas, forests, glaciers, flora, and fauna that make human life possible. The threats of pollution, infectious agents, microplastics, catastrophic weather, and climate change are not insurmountable but effective solutions demand all-in commitments. Innovators are promoting clean air and water, sustainable farming, and a One Health approach that connects people, animals, and the environment. At the outer reaches of knowledge, they are also thinking about what space can teach us about our own survival and tapping into the secrets of Blue Zones, where people routinely live past 100.

How to Thrive

A life graced by close personal ties, meaningful pastimes, community connections, and laughter is surely a life well lived. The latest research also suggests that curiosity, purpose, compassion, and even the ability to embrace uncertainty all contribute to better physical and mental health. There are cognitive rewards, too, in learning new skills, building friendships, heading to the dance floor, feeding art to the brain, and civic engagement. Finding ways to ground ourselves on a planet too often in turmoil—by spending time in nature, setting digital devices aside, seeking counseling, or committing to sobriety—can foster the calm and resilience we need to function at our best.

Spotlight on Women's Health

Clinicians, scientists, and leaders are bringing new attention to the unique health challenges women face, sparking vigorous policy debates on issues that affect women’s bodies, pathbreaking research on infertility and menopause, and an explosion of women-centered apps. Much more needs to be done. Gender differences in heart disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s are still poorly understood, the preventable tragedy of maternal mortality falls hardest on women of color, domestic violence is a global epidemic, caregivers urgently need more support, and sexual health—from birth control to the clitoris—demands more research. Advocates, healthcare providers, legislators, and venture capitalists are jumping into the fray to improve outcomes and make women’s health a priority.

The Senses

Whether it is the pleasure of food, a flower’s aroma, the intimacy of sex, a song’s evocative power, or the beauty of a sunset, the senses open us up to the surrounding world. Every facet of health is closely tied to sensory messages, as anyone robbed of their ability to taste and smell by COVID can attest. New research into human neural pathways and animal perception points us further, uncovering the use of smell as a tool to communicate and teeing up the possibility that we can learn to hear color and see sound. Intuition is often called a sixth sense and new discoveries about systems of balance and movement suggest that we may be able to cultivate still other senses.

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