Commentary: Public Health Week is a call to action

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Steven Beach, a registered nurse with the Salt Lake County Health Department, prepares a Hepatitis A vaccination dose at a mobile vaccination clinic setup outside at 500 west and 200 south in Salt Lake City Thursday November 16, 2017. The department is setting up the clinics to address the county's outbreak of Hepatitis A . There have been 66 cases here so far this year, mostly in homeless community.

National Public Health Week is here. If the first thing that came to mind was, “So what?” or, maybe, “Why does that even matter?” you are not alone.

We celebrate National Public Health Week, April 1-7, because “Everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life in a safe environment.” National Public Health Week is a time for all of us to focus on what we can do to make our own communities healthier places to live. The theme for the 2019 National Public Health Week is “Creating the Healthiest Nation: For science. For action. For health.”

How does public health make a difference in my life or make my community stronger? Many people wonder what public health practitioners do. Public health encompasses many professions, all dedicated to keeping people healthy at the population and community level. First responders, restaurant inspectors, health educators, environmental scientists, researchers, nutritionists, community planners, social workers, epidemiologists, physicians, nurses, occupational health and safety officers, sanitarians and others work and advocate for public policy that moves in the direction of health equity.

In the words of Georges Benjamin, M.D., executive director of the American Public Health Association, “Forget genetic code. A zip code can make a difference of 15 years or more in life expectancy.”

This matters in Utah because, as seen in the just released County Health Rankings & Roadmap, not everyone living in Utah starts or ends up in a healthy place. The differences across communities, be it TRAX station, zip code or county line, are dramatic. Utah does well in obesity prevention, smoking rates and cancer deaths when compared to other states. However, 11 percent of Utah’s children live in poverty, rates that range from 5 percent to 33 percent, depending on where you live. Poverty limits opportunities for housing, neighborhood safety, access to healthy food and quality education.

Public health policy promotes responsible environmental stewardship, active surveillance for threats to public safety or well-being, access to appropriate treatment to support physical and mental health and science-based solutions to the major health problems that plague society today.

Public health professionals focus on prevention, providing education and access to resources so that you can make decisions about your health. We emphasize early access to vaccinations, preventing risky sexual behaviors, warning people about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, and in all ways paving the way for people to live safe and disease-free lives.

The Utah Public Health Association invites everyone to celebrate the 2019 legislative wins that will result in a healthier Utah — Medicaid expansion, better air quality, reductions in tobacco use among minors and safer walking and biking routes to school for thousands of school children.

However you share your passion, whatever social media effort you prefer, and be it violence prevention, universal access to health care, clean air, nutrition, fitness, drug abuse prevention, or other public health topics, let your friends, family and neighbors know that the public’s health matters to you. Your opinion is important and it needs to become part of the discussion that will lead to solutions. Let National Public Health Week be your call to action to help eliminate the conditions that lead to suffering and early death and encourage behaviors, attitudes, and policies that promote wellness for everyone.

The Utah Public Health Association is an advocacy organization comprised of public health professionals. Its mission is to protect and improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. This letter is a collaborative effort from members of the UPHA Board of Directors: Anna Dillingham, Paul Wightman, Julie Gast, Steve Hawks, Brittany Guerra, Teresa Garrett, Shaheen Hossain, Turner Bitton, and Heather Borski and student intern Susan Cheever.

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