Just when I thought there couldn’t be another day or week drawing attention to my favorite “theme” or “cause”—I missed “World Day of the Snowman” back in January because our weird weather left us without a winter, and last month’s “Pi Day” just wasn’t my thing—along comes National Public Health Week. What a perfect week for a public health nerd like me to celebrate a “healthier America.”
But this isn’t simply the week to bust out your early 1990s Suzanne Somers’ ThighMaster to finally get back into shape. This is a week to get involved in your community to improve the public’s health as well as your own. Ever since 1995, when President Bill Clinton proclaimed the first week in April National Public Health Week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has been helping to coordinate and organize events around the country to “unite around a critical public health issue and focus our collective energy on the singular goal of helping people live longer, happier, healthier lives.” (Full disclosure: I am one of the 55,000 members of APHA).
I had a chance to speak last week with Kimberly Moore, APHA's director of affiliate affairs. With a background in tobacco prevention, Moore is no stranger to the challenges of public health prevention efforts. But National Public Health Week offers unique challenges, coordinating hundreds of public health-related organizations around the country to help plan events that promote the public's health. Most events are funded at the local level, but APHA provides “comprehensive planning, organizing and outreach materials that can be used during and after the week to raise awareness.”
Every year, the week has a different theme. Last year’s, “Safety is No Accident,” focused on injury prevention and partnered with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention to coordinate events.
This year’s theme, “A Healthier America Begins Today” focuses on “the issue of prevention and wellness to ensure that all is being done to improve our nation’s health.” The publication last year of the National Prevention Strategy, “a comprehensive plan that will help increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life,” Moore said, provided a “unique opportunity to engage and expand upon that principle and emphasize prevention and wellness strategies.” According to Moore, “prevention is a key to living a long and healthy life.”
So from Monday through April 8, National Public Health Week will roll into communities across the country. You can attend events like “Gardening is Good for You (and your health)!” with the University of Maryland public health garden team, who will discuss the connections between gardening and good health, or a panel discussion in Atlanta examining “The Impact of Alcohol Use On Injuries and Violence.”
In this region, the week's partners include the Drexel University School of Public Health, the Pennsylvania Public Health Association, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as local health departments. You can learn more about the events, many of which are being coordinated by Drexel, at this link. Among the topics being explored here in Philly this week are “Active Living and Healthy Eating,” “Preventing Communicable Diseases,” “Reproductive and Sexual Health,” and “Mental and Emotional Well-Being.”
These activities are a great way to learn more about what public health is and how we can come together to improve our health. With the Supreme Courts’ impending ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which embraces wellness and prevention efforts, we would do well to get involved in public health. Given the tone of last week’s oral arguments before the court, our nation’s wellness and prevention efforts may be scaled back significantly, and that would be a giant step in the wrong direction.
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