Today marks the start of National Public Health Week. From conducting scientific research to educating about health, people in the field of public health work to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. That can mean vaccinating children and adults to prevent the spread of disease. Or educating people about the risks of alcohol and tobacco. Public health sets safety standards to protect workers and develops school nutrition programs to ensure kids have access to healthy food. Public health works to track disease outbreaks, prevent injuries and shed light on why some of us are more likely to suffer from poor health than others. The many facets of public health include speaking out for laws that promote smoke-free indoor air and seatbelts, spreading the word about ways to stay healthy and giving science-based solutions to problems. Public health saves money, improves our quality of life, helps children thrive and reduces human suffering.
As you may know, public health is credited with adding 25 years to the life expectancy of people in the United States during the 20th century. This achievement was made through progress in healthier behaviors, cleaner air, food and water, and breakthroughs in disease diagnosis and treatment. Yet, our work is only beginning. Life expectancy in the United States has been stagnant; in some parts of the country, life expectancy has actually declined. And West Virginia continues to struggle with contemporary public health problems of tobacco use, poor mental health, substance abuse, injuries, obesity, and associated chronic diseases.
To truly achieve better health for everyone, we must address the upstream drivers of health that touch everyone, no matter where they are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age. Public health is the essential infrastructure for this work, but it needs to innovate, and in many ways, reinvent itself so that we have what it takes to ensure that the American people are healthy, ready, and competitive in this global economy. By working more closely together, clinical medicine and public health can help each other improve health maximally — and emphasize society’s responsibility to promote both healthy environments and consistent, high-quality care.
I wish you all a happy, safe and productive Public Health Week!