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Thomas Frieden, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thomas Frieden, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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2013 Health / Health and Human Services Department

Thomas Frieden, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

photo of Margot Sanger-Katz
July 16, 2013

Frieden, 52, is the brains behind many of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's most famed nanny-state initiatives. As director of New York City's health department, he launched its indoor-smoking ban, its ban on trans fats, and its graphic antitobacco ads. He also spearheaded the requirement that restaurants publish their health-inspection letter grades in their windows. But Frieden spent much of his career fighting infectious diseases. During a long stint at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he helped combat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in New York City—and then all over the world, including five years building a TB program in India—before Bloomberg tapped him to manage public health in the city and develop innovative and aggressive ways to stamp out risk factors for chronic disease. Frieden's career progression in many ways mirrors the evolution of the agency he now leads. For decades, CDC's core responsibility was infectious diseases—TB, HIV, polio. But while disease is still a key responsibility of the agency—Frieden is hard at work preparing for a possible avian-flu pandemic—chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer have emerged as the biggest U.S. killers, and a growing focus for CDC. Even as the Affordable Care Act extends health insurance to millions, Americans continue to get sicker. Frieden hopes to push back against preventable causes of diseases—what he calls "winnable battles." The current budgetary climate does not make it easy. CDC's funding has been cut several times in recent years, even before the sequester. A mandatory fund in the ACA meant to bolster public health and prevention efforts has also been sliced and is under constant attack by House Republicans as a "slush fund." "Public health is at its best when it prevents things from happening," Frieden said, and it's hard to direct appropriators to the outbreak that didn't happen. "So, often, we may be victims of our own success." He grew up in the New York City suburbs, attended Oberlin College, and graduated from medical school at Columbia University. A fitness buff, Frieden lives near the CDC headquarters in Atlanta with his wife and two children.

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