Evelyn Jackson: Take heed on National Public Health Week

By EVELYN JACKSON FOR THE E-T,

This week represents National Public Health Awareness week (April 1-7). 

What is public health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.

This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases.

Public health also works to limit health disparities.

Everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life in a safe environment.

To make that possible, we need to address the causes of poor health and disease risk among individuals and within our communities.

Where we live, learn, work, worship and play affects each of us and can determine our health and life expectancy.

Rural communities face a range of health disparities, from higher burdens of chronic disease to limited access to primary care and prevention services.

When compared to people living in urban areas, rural Americans face a greater risk of death from the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.

Suicide rates are also higher in rural America than in urban areas, with that gap growing steadily since the early 2000s.

The opioid addiction and overdose crisis has hit rural communities especially hard. The rate of fatal overdoses is higher in rural communities than in metropolitan ones.

Complicating matters, rural residents are often more likely to face social determinants that negatively impact health, such as poverty, transportation barriers and lack of jobs that pay well.

Technology can be a potent public health tool. For example, evaluations of the free Text4baby app, which provides personalized text messaging services for pregnant women and new moms, finds that participants have higher levels of knowledge about issues such as staying healthy during pregnancy, safe newborn sleep and infant feeding. In addition, researchers found that

Text4baby helped women, especially those without health coverage, access health services. Evidence is also beginning to emerge on the potential of health- and activity-tracking mobile apps in encouraging healthy behavior changes.

However, ethical concerns remain on how to balance the benefits of new technologies and the massive amounts of data they generate with people's right to keep their health information private.

America's health and the world's health are fundamentally connected. Consider that during the H1N1 flu pandemic, the virus quickly traveled around the world and a global effort was required to track its movements and eventually contain the disease.

Across the world, communities still struggle with preventable and often-neglected diseases. For example, while global measles deaths have massively decreased since 2000, the vaccine-preventable disease is still common in many developing countries, affecting about 7 million people in 2016.

Malaria — a preventable condition often described as a neglected disease — caused 435,000 deaths worldwide in 2017. The World Health Organization's top 10 threats to global health include: pandemic flu, cholera, violent conflict, malaria, malnutrition and natural disasters

There are avenues to promote our health as priority. In the workplace, let’s partner across public and private sectors to make sure decisions are made with the public’s health in mind. Within our communities, let’s start new conversations with our neighbors and become advocates for positive change. Working together, we can build healthier communities and eventually, the healthiest nation. But we need your help to get there.

Evelyn Jackson, Ph.D.

 

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