So this is a big week coming up.
April 6 through 12 is Spring Break for Newton County Schools (that sound you hear is a lot of children saying woo-hoo!). It is also National Public Health Week. Okay, I may be the only one saying woo-hoo to that. It is also my daughter’s 12th birthday so there’s another reason for a few woo-hoos…like many parents, amidst the laughs and the tears, I can’t figure out where the last 12 years have gone.
But this article is not on the blessed job of parenting — back to National Public Health Week.
What is it, you might ask? And you would be right to do so. Public Health is an interesting discipline that draws multiple other ones — biology, medicine, agriculture, psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science to name a few. The result is a discipline that addresses the acute health issues of individuals with community based data and resources, national trends and technology, and a global perspective. It is a discipline that looks different in every community, in every state, in every nation. It can be found in the form of an activist agency, a public policy advocacy group, a medical center, or a lay health advisor group. It covers a wide range of topics like mental health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, foodborne illness, safe drinking water, drug and alcohol abuse, reproductive health, infant health and mortality, access to healthcare, and homicide, just to name a few. It’s all based on the needs of the individuals that make up that community so, even when it is dealing with global issues, it is community based in essence.
Now that you have gotten my Public Health 101, your next question is probably how does that apply to you. Well, I am glad you asked. During National Public Health Week, the Association for Public Health releases community data on health indicators. It is a zip code wellness check-up and it’s called Building a Culture of Health, County by County.
Our local check-up shows areas we are strong in and areas that need attention. We rank 49 out of the 159 counties in Health Outcomes — these measures represent how healthy counties are by looking at how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive. We have a higher than average premature death rate. However, only 16% of adults rank their own health as poor or fair.
We rank 50 out of 159 for Health Factors – these are the things that represent what influences the health of a county including health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment factors. We have high rates of adult smoking and adult obesity. We have a high ratio of population to primary care physicians and (possibly related) a high rate of preventable hospital stays. On the other hand, we have a high rate of annual recommended mammography screenings. Our high school graduation rate is higher than the state’s but so is our unemployment rate. Our number of reported violent crimes is less than the state’s average. We have excellent drinking water but a higher-than-average daily density of fine particulate matter in our air quality. And, while 81% of us drive alone to work, 46% of us drive alone on a commute more than 30 minutes. (This, and more, information can be found at nphw.org.)
Does any of that resonate with you? Are you one of those statistics? Do you know someone, work with someone, go to church with someone that is? Resources are available all around us — we need only be an active seeker of opportunities in order to find them.
Maybe your doctor has an educational program for smoking cessation. Maybe your neighborhood is considering a community garden. Maybe your church has a walking group. Maybe your neighborhood watch is looking for volunteers. Maybe your grandchild’s school is looking for volunteers to read to the pre-K classes.
If you didn’t say woo-hoo to this information, I totally understand. We Public Health folks are an odd lot that get excited over information and statistics because we see them as opportunities for something good. Public Health efforts are everywhere. Maybe you will find one that will be the good you or your loved one were looking for.
Hosanna Fletcher has lived in Newton County since 2005. With a Masters in Public Health and another in Sociology, she has worked on a variety of community development projects, led training sessions for Lay Health Advisors, conducted and evaluated health risk assessments, and designed and implemented employee wellness programs. Hosanna and her husband Kevin, a Newton County native, have been married for 15 years this October. They have two children — Miranda, 11, and Thomas, 3.