Healthography—or the health of the place where you live—is the theme of this year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting, which is taking place in New Orleans this week.
During the opening session, Georges Benjamin, MD, Executive Director of APHA, announced that APHA’s goal is to create the healthiest generation in American history within one generation. Benjamin’s announcement was coupled with announcements from local and national public health leaders that collectively took another step forward in that effort.
For example, the Partnership for a Healthier America announced a new Healthier Campus Initiative, which calls on colleges and universities to adopt recommended guidelines on food, nutrition and physical activity.
“We know that going to college is a time of change for many students—we also know that means it’s a time when new habits are formed,” said Peter Soler, the partnership’s CEO. “By creating healthier food and physical activity environments today, campuses and universities are encouraging healthier habits that will carry over into tomorrow.”
Guidelines being adopted by participating campuses include promoting the consumption of water instead of soda on campus, offering a bicycle sharing program for all students and providing certified personal trainers and registered dietitian nutritionists on campus.
In addition, Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals, Kathy Kliebert, discussed the state’s “Well-Ahead” initiative, which promotes and recognizes smart choices that are made in the spaces and places where people live and work, and which make it easier to live healthier lives. Kliebert told the audience that Well-Ahead promotes voluntary changes without imposing new taxes or creating new rules.
Within the host city of New Orleans, a couple of initiatives to improve health within the Crescent City were also discussed at APHA’s opening session.
One such initiative to combat obesity—known as Fit Nola—now has 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. Also, next week legislation will be introduced to ban smoking in the city’s bars, casinos and public spaces.
APHA’s opening session ended with a talk by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, who spoke about her book “The Warmth of Other Suns.” A book 15 years in the making, “The Warm of Other Suns” describes the migration of African Americans in the 20th century from the South to the North for a better life for themselves and their children. For example, the parents of Olympian Jesse Owens worried their son would not have the strength to work in the fields, so they moved north to Cleveland, Ohio, where he started running track—a sport that would take him around the world and across the global stage.
Whether the generation of migrants profiled in Wilkerson’s book realized it, their stories epitomize the power of place, and the influence of geography on health, wellbeing and opportunity of every individual.