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National Public Health Week 2010

April 5, 2010

A couple of years ago, I posted a couple of times on the goings-on surrounding National Public Health Week. Last year, of course, there was something else going on, so we didn’t get around to what really should be an annual occurrence. To wit, I’d like to talk about National Public Health Week 2010.

At first, I was sort of underwhelmed by the topic selection, to be completely frank. A Healthier America: One Community at a Time. Kind of squishy, no? Kind of undirected, right? Sounds kind of like that other term that I’ve had problems with, resilience. What does it mean? More importantly, how do you do that? What’s the prescription for getting a healthier America, one community at  a time? (Or, what’s the prescription for being resilient?)

Well, the thing that I love about public health is that just about everything is related to it. ASPH runs this great program called, “This is Public Health,” that asks students to take and post photos of public health in action (with stickers!). And the pictures are great. The genius behind this program is that it shows how, well, squishy public health is. How integral public health is to the well-being of us all, how there is no one prescription for how best to do public health.

My biggest problem with resiliency seems to be that which I love so much about public health, then. It is everything, and there are literally hundreds of ways to do it well. The only reason I can find for this disconnect is because of the formulaic nature of homeland security and preparedness. Do X, get Y funding. Y funding can only be spent achieving X. (Between you and me, this is why I think there is so little work being done on mitigation efforts.) Public health, however, is funded in hundreds of different ways, many of which aren’t even called public health. They are called environmental protection, infection control, wastewater treatment, counseling, maternal training, worker protection and restaurant inspections. You create a healthier America one community at a time, one problem at a time, one person at a time. You cannot, however, create resiliency in homeland security. You create resiliency one community at a time, one critical infrastructure element at a time, one weak spot at a time.

Maybe those of us squarely in the homeland security world can learn something from those of us squarely in the public health world.

The nice thing about this comparison is how connected they really are. Taking some of the examples from APHA on what National Public Health Week is, can you honestly say that these things don’t increase our nation’s resilience?

  • Children are more likely to bike or walk to school—increasing their activity levels—in communities that have newly built or improved sidewalks, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and bicycle paths.
  • Taking just a moment to receive (or give) a vaccination can be a life-saver. For example, people in retirement communities are 27 percent less likely to be hospitalized and nearly half as likely to die from fu- or pneumonia-related complications if they receive yearly fu vaccinations.
  • Businesses are part of the solution too. Workplace nutrition and physical activity programs successfully contribute to weight loss and improve body mass index among employees.
  • Simply sending an e-mail can lower smoking rates. College students who receive peer encouragement via e-mail are significantly more likely to stop smoking and smoke less often than those who don’t receive such encouragement.

So, if you work in public health, keep up the great work. Take time this week to realize that every little thing you do is helping to make a healthier America. If you work in homeland security, keep up the great work. Think outside of that thing you do. Expand your definition of homeland security and resilience. Call someone who works in public health and see where your concerns and interests overlap. Take time this week to realize that every little thing you do is helping to make a more resilient America.

Happy National Public Health Week, America.

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