Often in the world of public health, it feels as if failure is the norm and disaster of epidemic proportion is just around the corner. We read headlines that warn us of our deteriorating health status -- “Obesity Rates Rising”, “Heart Disease is the Number One Killer in America”, “Outbreak of Listeria Affects Hundreds”, etc.
It is hard not to feel disheartened by the negative news and almost nonexistent reports of improvement. But the truth is, success in the realm of public health is all around us, often unnoticed because when it works right, there is nothing to report.
Every time a bridge DOESN’T collapse, every time you DON’T catch tuberculosis, every time we DON’T feel sick, each person who DOESN’T contract a sexually transmitted infection ... THAT is public health at its finest. Quiet, smooth transitions in normal everyday life. Healthy living.
This year, Dr. Thomas Friedan, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has indicated seven areas that he and his team believe are Winnable Public Health Battles. These are issues that experts believe can become just another invisible aspect of life, unnoticed but clear indications of successful health planning at a societal level.
This is the first of a series of articles that describes these attainable victories in wellness, their historical roots and why we are poised as a population to win them. Each article will look at individual battles, but as a reader I urge you to keep in mind the interrelated, universal nature of public health issues.
Change of one will affect the status of another and stagnation or reluctance will breed more of the same. If we are to battle for public health, we must battle on all fronts, breaking down “silo” walls between health care, infrastructure, education, public policy, agriculture, housing markets, communication, the environment, and more. Only by interpreting our social systems as connected branches in a holistic web of life can we really wage effective war to bring about health equity.
Alright. Enough with the metaphor and idealistic mumbo-jumbo, you are rolling your eyes. What are the Winnable Battles of Public Health? And how can I even do anything about them, if this must really be such an all-encompassing and system-leveled fight?
Have no fear. Despite the rhetoric in the previous paragraphs, the following articles will break each of the issues down and provide steps that we can all take to contribute to healthy communities. The issues are as follows:
1. Improvement in Food Safety, Response to Foodborne Illness and Prevention of Outbreaks
2. Prevention of Healthcare Associated Infections and Improvement of Surveillance
3. Prevention of HIV Transmission and Reduction of Disparities in Populations Affected
4. Improve Motor Vehicle Safety and Enforce Substance-Free Driving
5. Attain Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Goals
6. Prevent Unintended Teen Pregnancies and Increase Use of Contraception
7. Reduce Smoking Rates, Enforce Bans/Regulations and Encourage Effective Cessation Programs
What do you think? Do you believe these goals are truly Winnable Battles? Is any one of them more important than another? Is the CDC setting itself up for failure? Can we even risk failing at these crucial public health efforts?
Edited by Jody Smith