Jonathan Samet wins the Fries Prize

Tom Frieden, left, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is seen with Jon Samet, center, and Judy Monroe, CDC Foundation president and CEO.

Distinguished Professor Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, director of the USC Institute for Global Health, Flora L. Thornton Chair of Preventive Medicine, received the 2016 Fries Prize for Improving Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Nov. 17 for his pioneering research and decades of advocacy on the negative impacts of air pollution on health.

Trained in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and epidemiology, Samet, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, has applied his broad background to identify and address the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution on the health of children and adults. He is recognized for his research on the health risks of inhaled pollutants — particles and ozone in outdoor air and indoor pollutants including secondhand smoke and radon — and his significant contributions to improve the environment.

“Dr. Samet has dedicated his career to protecting people from the dangers of air pollutants and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude,” said James F. Fries, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford University and chairman of the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, which in partnership with the CDC Foundation awards the annual Fries Prize for Improving Health. “His research and policy leadership have directly contributed to the avoidance of hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations.”

Beyond his three decades of leadership and major contributions in the area of tobacco control, Samet and his colleagues have developed innovative approaches to quantifying the health effects of air pollution. This key evidence has already led to changes in public policy responsible for improved air quality standards that will lead to better health for millions of people around the world.

“I am deeply honored to receive the 2016 Fries Prize,” Samet said. “My work to improve health has been based on the premise that researchers and their findings can make a difference. Looking back over the four decades of my career, I am proud to say that, along with my many colleagues, our research on the risks of environmental pollution has led to enormous gains in environmental quality and health.

“I also am honored to join an incredible list of prior winners, including such California notables as Lester Breslow and Jonathan Fielding and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whom I worked with on the landmark 1986 Surgeon General’s report on involuntary smoking.”

Samet has received numerous honors and recognition including the Surgeon General’s Medallion in 1990 and 2006, the 2004 Prince Mahidol Award for Global Health awarded by the King of Thailand and the 2006 Public Service Award of the American Thoracic Society. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 1997.

“Jonathan Samet has spent decades working to improve the air quality standards by conducting research and developing policy standards,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute. “He has been at the forefront of the fight to reduce the risk of inhaled pollutants. This dedication has led to improvement in the health and well-being of our planet in immeasurable ways. The Keck School of Medicine of USC is very proud of him as he receives this latest honor, and I look forward to the great things that he will continue to accomplish in his already illustrious career.”

The Fries Prize for Improving Health recognizes an individual who has made major accomplishments in health improvement with emphasis on recent contributions to health in the United States, and with the general criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. It is intended for an individual who has done the most to improve health. The Fries Prize for Improving Health award is $60,000.

The James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation is a nonprofit corporation incorporated in 1991. The mission of the Foundation is to identify and honor individuals, organizations or institutions which have made great contributions to the health of the public. The Foundation seeks to reward accomplishment rather than promise, practicality rather than theory.

The CDC Foundation is a partner with the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, which established and funds the awards. As of 2016, the CDC Foundation manages and administers the Fries Foundation’s public health award programs, which include the Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award.