This week (April 2-8) is National Public Health Week. As Kim Krisberg described a couple of weeks ago, localities and groups across the country are recognizing it with a wide range of activities, from a health film festival to a safe sex carnival to a 1950s-themed health fair featuring the jitterbug and hula hoops. (Go here to find an event in your area.) This year, the American Public Health Association (which has organized National Public Health Week since 1995) has made the week’s theme “A Healthier American Begins Today: Join the Movement!” The NPHW website explains the theme’s significance:
This year, with the recent release of the National Prevention Strategy, we will address the issue of prevention and wellness to ensure that all is being done to improve our nation’s health.
Every year, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are responsible for millions of premature deaths. Americans miss 2.5 billion days of work because of these illnesses, and all of that lost productivity adds up to more than $1 trillion. Injuries, unexpected accidents and violence affect people daily in all aspects of life. Unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, poisonings, and burns rank among the top 10 causes of death for people aged 44 and younger.
Catching and preventing these illnesses and incidents before they develop is the key to improving our nation’s health. There are so many small steps we can take to begin leading healthier lives; sometimes it just takes a little motivation.
Uniting around this year’s theme of A Healthier America Begins Today: Join the Movement, we can work to encourage more Americans and their communities to take preventive measures to help improve their lives. Little steps can lead to big changes.
The week includes specific themes for each day:
- Monday: Active Living and Healthy Eating: Promote healthy choices in your communities, such as bike lanes and farmer’s markets.
- Tuesday: Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs: Identify alcohol and drug use disorders early to reduce high-risk alcohol and drug consumption.
- Wednesday: Communicable Diseases: Encourage proper hand-washing and food preparation habits.
- Thursday: Reproductive and Sexual Health: Practice safe sex, encourage responsible contraception behavior and promote access to preventive health services.
- Friday: Mental and Emotional Well-Being: Refer people with signs of depression and suicidal thinking to appropriate resources and help centers.
For each of the themes, the website offers suggestions from small steps (eat more fruits and vegetables, take a family trip to a park) to big ones (start a farmers’ market, work with schools to add more physical activity into students’ days).
Personally, I also hope National Public Health Week encourages people to think about the many ways public health improves our lives. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the water- or food-borne diseases we didn’t catch this past year, the car crashes we avoided, the air pollution we didn’t breathe in, or the addiction or chronic disease we didn’t develop. We may not take time to appreciate the safe places where we work or the pleasant public spaces where we walk, bike, play, or socialize. Our health status results from an interaction between our own genes and habits and the larger environment, and we can’t have healthy environments without public health. Clean air and water, healthy food, safe roads and sidewalks, safe workplaces, and health-promoting public spaces aren’t things we can achieve as individuals. And when it comes to adopting healthier lifestyles and beating addictions and bad habits, we have a better chance of success when we pursue health as part of a supportive community.
So in addition to getting inspired by the themes and suggestions of National Public Health Week, I encourage everyone to use the occasion to think about the people, places, organizations, and institutions that help us live healthier lives — and how we can be part of a movement to make them even better.