We Are All Public Health

Georges Benjamin, MD

This year’s Public Health Thank You Day challenges us to answer the question: what is public health? The incredible diversity of specialties within the American Public Health Association’s membership leads me to ask that question on a daily basis. Our members shape fields as far ranging as child and maternal health, school health education, mental health, ethics, public health statistics and environmental health. But together, these disparate disciplines define public health.

APHA is striving to create the healthiest nation in one generation, and despite different specialties and backgrounds each public health discipline and professional can be part of this movement. As schools improve, child nutrition can improve; as access to insurance increases so can preventive care; and as research leaps forward, so can our understanding of the whole picture of human health.

Research shows that our health is determined not just by our genetic composition and individual behaviors, but by the environment in which we live, our level and quality of education, our income, and our access to health care and proper nutrition. These social determinants of health have enormous influence on our longevity and well-being. Public health must work across sectors and alongside communities with leaders in government, the private sector and other organizations to bring all of our influence to bear in addressing these critical determinants of health.

Our Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is one instance of public health breaking out of its traditional confines to make change happen. The Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is a prize competition for U.S. communities to develop practical, evidence-based strategies to improve measurable health outcomes and promote health and wellness, equity and social interaction. Participating communities focus on one health improvement area, but must also address issues of health equity and the social determinants of health. Programs like this are fostering collaboration among business, government and other community leaders to make all determinants of health a priority.

APHA’s Year of Climate Change and Health is also creating collaborations across sectors. With science showing that the impacts of climate change are already affecting our health, we’ve been educating and mobilizing health professionals and others about the importance of preparing for extreme weather, changes in vector-borne illness, increased heat and declining air quality.

The inspiring range of professionals, partners and individuals who have taken up the mantle of improving our nation’s health no matter their title or degree shows that we are all public health. Building on a robust research agenda, we need to join together and demand that health be a primary consideration in all public policies, and recognize we are all part of the solution to the health challenges that our country is facing. 

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, is executive director of the American Public Health Association.

This blog post is part of a series focusing on different aspects of public health in recognition of Public Health Thank You Day, held each year othe Monday before Thanksgiving. Visit www.publichealththankyouday.org for more information, and join us on social media using the hashtag #PHTYD.

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Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco