It's not about making poor choices, says Mary Bassett. It's about the fact that people in the hardest hit neighborhoods (like Brownsville, Brooklyn) don't have enough options to choose from.
Dr. Mary Travis Bassett was appointed commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in January 2014. With more than 30 years of experience in public health, Dr. Bassett has dedicated her career to advancing health equity. After Bassett completed her medical training, she moved to Harare, Zimbabwe, where she served on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for 17 years. In that role, she developed a range of AIDS prevention interventions to address one of the world’s worst AIDS epidemics. She later served as the associate director of Health Equity at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Southern Africa Office, overseeing it Africa AIDS portfolio.
In 2002, Dr. Bassett was appointed deputy commissioner of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she directed key initiatives, including bans on smoking and trans fats in restaurants and the requirement at chain restaurants to post calorie counts. She also established the department’s District Public Health Offices (DPHOs) in East and Central Harlem, the South Bronx and North and Central Brooklyn to lead targeted health and communication strategies in these communities that experience an excess burden of disease. Each office advances community health through home visiting programs, free exercise programs, efforts to increase access to healthy food, meetings with area doctors and coordination with local coalitions.
Most recently, since 2009, Dr. Bassett served at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as program director for the African Health Initiative and more recently has led the Child Well-being Program. Both portfolios have focused on strengthening systems to support health improvement.
Dr. Bassett grew up in New York City, received her B.A. in History and Science from Harvard University, her M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She served her medical residency at Harlem Hospital Center, and has a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Washington. She served for many years as an associate editor of the American Journal of Public Health.