National Public Health Week 2014: Q&A with Georges Benjamin, APHA

Apr 7, 2014, 1:33 PM


Each year during the first week of April, the American Public Health Association (APHA) hosts National Public Health Week, an opportunity to help communities across the United States highlight issues that are critical to improving the health of the nation. This year’s theme is “Public Health: Start Here”—entry points for making us a healthier nation. Each day this week has its own theme and NewPublicHeatlth will have a post about each one:

  • Be healthy from the start. From maternal health and school nutrition to emergency preparedness, public health starts at home. Let us show you around. (Read a previous NewPublicHealth post, County Health Rankings — Nurse-Family Partnership: Q&A with Elly Yost, about how Rockingham County, N.C. is working to improve maternal health.)
  • Don't panic. Disaster preparedness starts with community-wide commitment and action. We're here to help you weather the unexpected.
  • Get out ahead. Prevention is now a nationwide priority. Let us show you where you fit in.
  • Eat well. The system that keeps our nation's food safe and healthy is complex. We can guide you through the choices.
  • Be the healthiest nation in one generation. Best practices for community health come from around the globe. 

In observance of National Public Health Week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association about National Public Health Week 2014.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the 2014 National Public Health Week.

Georges Benjamin: We have an overarching theme, and it’s “Public Health: Start Here.” The intent is to get people to “just do it.” Often all of us have a tendency to kind of ruminate over what we want to do to improve the public’s health, and what we’re trying to emphasize this year is that there is enormous opportunity for people just to get up and do it. The evidence base is there, the opportunity is there, and so we’re just getting people to start improving their health.

We have five themes for the week. Monday is around early health such as maternal and child health; school nutrition; and conversations at home about how to make every family healthier. Tuesday is focused on emergency preparedness and disaster preparedness. On Wednesday we’ll be on prevention, including clinical and community preventive health services. Thursday’s focus is on eating well with a focus on the nutritional aspects of health. And Friday we look at becoming the healthiest nation in just one generation. Like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Public Health Association is focused on a creating a culture of health and creating a healthy environment for everyone.

NPH: What early signs of population health improvement can you point to?

Benjamin: We’ve seen a fair amount of multi-sectorial efforts to improve health. Around obesity, for example, we can’t claim success yet, but we are beginning to feel that we understand it a bit more; we’ve gotten communities and different sectors involved, including housing and transportation. I think the obesity epidemic is a great example of what we’ve learned from the automobile injury paradigm—that population health success requires multiple sectors, multiple modalities and multiple people involved in order to make improvements.

Another key success I see is in implementing the Affordable Care Act. We just passed the fourth anniversary of signing the ACA into law, which means that more people will have access to quality affordable health care, and what we now need to do is just start providing that care to them. That falls under our theme of “Public Health: Start Here,” which is starting to make sure that people get quality, affordable health care. The barrier of not having that insurance card is dwindling for millions and that’s going to be important as we try to emphasize preventive health, such as health screenings.

We know that we’ve made enormous progress in cardiovascular disease. We know we’ve made enormous progress in hospital readmissions and hospital-related infections, which are high on our list of the winnable battles that Dr. Tom Frieden and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been championing. So, we can prove that we’ve had some improvement in our health. America’s Health Rankings that APHA is part of shows that we’ve actually had an improvement in health at the national level. So, many of the efforts over the last several years, we believe, are panning out.

Now, that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels because we’ve all seen the numbers get better and then the next year they get worse. Now, however, from our perspective, it’s time to start here to redouble our efforts to really improve the health of our nation.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.