In recognition of his outstanding contributions to public health through science-based advocacy, John S. Santelli, MD, MPH, received the David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health.
The award is a tribute to David P. Rall, MD, PhD, who brought scientific research to bear on policy-making and in environmental health and whose science-based advocacy advanced public health and prevention across many fields and in many forms.
Santelli, the Heilbrunn Professor of Population and Family Health and Pediatrics and Chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is one of the nation’s leading researchers on adolescent sexual and reproductive health. He also is a staunch advocate on behalf of access to medically accurate sex education and high quality health care.
Santelli testified before the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Preventive Services for Women, a group charged by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with recommending the services that should be included in the Affordable Care Act’s definition of minimum preventive health care for women. Using his own research and that of others on the direct health benefits that accrue when women, including adolescents, have access to contraceptive services, Santelli recommended that contraceptives be covered under the health reform law.
During the past decade, Santelli’s research and related outspoken advocacy have helped bring about the federal government’s decision to reduce funding of abstinence-only programs and to direct funding instead to medically accurate teen pregnancy prevention programs. His years of focused research have looked at trends in adolescent sexual behavior and use of contraception, the impact of different kinds of sex education on youth sexual behavior and contraceptive practices and state level refusal of federal abstinence-only funding, among other key issues. The research has resulted in dozens of peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, including a special issue of the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy devoted to an examination of abstinence-only policies and programs.
Santelli not only has published his research but has worked tirelessly to disseminate his findings, giving presentations for such organizations as APHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, the Population Association of America and the International Sex and Relationships Education Conference. He also offered expert testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2008, warning that abstinence-only programs “require teachers and health educators to conceal information about risk reduction measures such as condoms and contraception, or risk losing federal funding.”
Santelli’s colleagues credit him with bringing a “rights-based approach to public health” into the debate about abstinence-only sex education programs.
“He made it clear that comprehensive sex education is a value and a right,” said Sharon L. Camp, PhD, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “Futhermore, as a physician, he pointed out the ethical obligation of health care providers and educators to provide accurate health information.”
Prior to joining Columbia University, Santelli served as the CDC’s chief of the Applied Sciences Branch in the Division of Reproductive Health and led the development of seven school-based health centers in Baltimore while also conducting research on the impact of those centers on health, health care access, and parent support for school-based reproductive health services.
He is the immediate past president of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine and serves on the Research Advisory Panel of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Editorial Board of the Journal of Adolescent Health.