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Evidence and Excitement: Looking toward the Coming Year

Alan J. Christensen
Alan J. Christensen, PhD

Alan J. Christensen, PhD, Society of Behavioral Medicine President

I am honored to begin my term as President of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. I attended my first SBM meeting as a student in 1988 and have missed only one meeting since, in 1997, when the date coincided with the week my son Aaron was born. SBM has played a central role in my own professional development, as I know it has for many of you, and I am pleased to be able to give back to our Society in this manner.

There has never been a better time to help lead this organization. The Society is currently thriving and growing in so many ways. Recognition of the paramount role that behavior plays in promoting and maintaining health is at an all-time high and continues to grow. And as an organization, SBM's own health is strong. Like many of you I just returned from an inspiring Annual Meeting in New Orleans where registration numbers set a new Society record. Membership numbers are themselves the highest they have been in many years and are moving strongly upward. The Society's two journals, Annals of Behavioral Medicine (edited by Chris France), and the new Translational Behavioral Medicine (edited by Bonnie Spring) continue to grow in visibility and impact (Annals most recent impact factor of 3.98 puts it among a very elite group of behavioral medicine/health journals). And we have a strong management team headed by Amy Stone working 24/7 to serve members and make our organization stronger.

Despite these existing strengths there are many challenges we face as individual members and as an organization. Research funding grows increasingly tight threatening both the development of our next generation of investigators as well as the productivity and impact of our more senior scientists. Ensuring that our voice and central messages are heard in the increasingly crowded advocacy and policy arena is more essential than ever as purse strings tighten and as the political landscape ebbs and flows under us. And the reality that so many of us are doing "more with less", and are pulled in so many different directions professionally, makes it critical that an organization like SBM addresses member concerns and adds value to members professional lives.

The strong foundation of the Society puts it in a position to be able to stretch itself, promote its objectives, and serve its members, in ways that were previously not possible. As I embark on my term, many of my plans fall within a three-pronged focus. In the coming year I'll be working with Board members and other volunteers to continue successful efforts that have expanded our health policy and advocacy reach as well as our membership base. A new major focus for the year will be on health information technology. The application of electronic devices - such as mobile phones - to foster health behavior assessment and change, is expanding rapidly and I believe it essential that SBM and its members play a leadership role in furthering the intersections between behavioral medicine research and technology applications to health. Next year's annual meeting (March 20-23, 2013) will be in San Francisco, an ideal venue to promote the health technology focus and to further explore potential SBM/technology industry synergies. Margaret Schneider, our Program Committee Chair for 2013, will be working to develop a scientific program around the theme "Technology: the excitement and the evidence". As I write this, B.J. Fogg has accepted our invitation to deliver a keynote at next year's meeting. A well-known behavioral scientist and author, B.J. directs Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab where he is engaged in creating insights into how computing products can be designed to change people's beliefs and behaviors. BJ will be just one of many leading scientists and innovators talking about the intersection of technology and health at the annual meeting.

It is a particularly important time for SBM to have its voice heard in efforts to shape the research funding and health policy agendas. For the past year and a half the Public Policy Leadership Group, headed by Karen Emmons, has made significant progress toward building relationships with key legislative offices and supporting health-related federal legislation that advances core behavioral medicine principles. Moreover, SBM has joined with other organizations in advocating for increased NIH funding, protecting the Prevention and Public Health Fund, community transformation grants, and other relevant issues. The Health Policy Committee, headed by Paul Estabrooks, has continued its valuable efforts toward ensuring the incorporation of behavioral measures into electronic health records and, working with the Society for Research in Nicotine and Tobacco, developed a statement that supports inclusion of the 1-800 quit line on cigarette packages. In the coming year, the Committee will be developing policy statements - or briefs - focused on such topics as the importance of sleep for public health, health technology and behavioral medicine, and team science.

Brent Van Dorsten and his Membership Council are to be commended for implementing highly successful membership growth strategies. Our member numbers are strong getting stronger. In addition to growing the absolute size of our membership base, it's equally as important to ensure that the base is diverse with respect to member discipline and background. Such diversity has always been a unique characteristic of our multidisciplinary society and ensuring that the breadth of member diversity keeps pace with the increasing engagement of many disciplines (Nursing, Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, to name just a few) in the health and behavioral medicine arena is essential to SBM's reach and impact. Finally, I will be working with the SBM Board of Directors to create greater leadership and engagement opportunities for members, especially new members or older members who have not played a leadership role in the past. This sort of broad engagement throughout the membership is not only a key to member retention but is essential to maintain a vital infusion of new ideas and new energy into the activities of our Society. One of the central existing ways that members can become involved in this way is through participation in one of SBM's special interest groups (SIG's). If you are not currently active in a SIG, I encourage you to consider joining one or more of these content-specific groups, as I think you will find SIG activity to be a perfect complement to the broader, cross-disciplinary SBM experience.

If you are an SBM member, I welcome your input on any of these issues and more. If you are new to SBM, I welcome any questions you may have about our organization and hope you will consider how SBM can add value to your own professional life.

Alan J. Christensen PhD