Public Health is undeniably a hot topic in today’s ever-globalizing world, especially with the resurgence of old disease such as the black plague, and the changing political policies to healthcare, both in the United States and abroad. One particular element that deserves recognition is the modernization of the public health system, particularly how it tackles the ever-increasing risks to the safety of the public, some of which might surprise you. As our lives change daily, weekly, and yearly, so must the systems around us continue to evolve and adapt, to ensure the security and general health of all individuals. While most people might think public health only deals with things like communicable disease or issues like the current opioid problem, the reality is that public health officials have to deal with a myriad of elements, including “communicable disease and environmental risks, health promotion, prevention of chronic disease and injury, and responding to new health threats” (Oregon.gov).
One fantastic way officials are modernizing the industry is by having local and city governments take a very personalized approach and role in helping shape and change public behavior. One example of this is how cities have begun to deal hands-on with the problem of cell phone use. Although not our first thought, the constant use of cell phones presents a large public safety hazard, particularly when everyone is walking with their heads down and not paying attention to cars, street lights, etc. To help tackle this problem, some cities have put up specific signs warning against the usage and its dangers (particularly as it pertains to crossing streets), and put police patrols on duties to serve warnings and even give tickets to people using their phones recklessly. In the case of Honolulu, individuals recklessly using cell phones can face possible jail time for endangering others’ lives. Although this might seem harsh, these cities are trying to keep all of their citizens safe, and aware of surroundings, particularly when traffic is involved.
Another way cities are taking a personalized interest in public health is through their messaging and focus on physical activity, something that has been proven to have many benefits, two of which include disease prevention and longevity. A great example of this approach can be seen in San Diego. The city has focused on promoting physical movement in one of their busiest places – the airport. By simply putting signs around the airport that suggested taking the stairs, rather than the escalator, San Diego saw a surprisingly large success rate in stair vs. escalator usage. They credit the success to focusing the message on the benefit to the person choosing to take the stairs, rather than a generic health message about physical activity benefits. In other words, they made people feel like they were making a choice that bettered their lives, in the midst of busy travels. This goes to show that personalizing the message, and finding the right places for people to see, listen and receive it, creates a big impact on public health, albeit seemingly in small ways.
As mentioned above, a part of the modernization of public health means dealing with new health threats, and while some of these are ones we’d rather not have to consider, being prepared for any and all possibilities is a necessity. One area gaining attention right now is the response to a possible nuclear detonation. The CDC is having a training/discussion on this topic later in January, and the focus will be on how prepared the public health arena is currently, and if something were to happen, what processes and procedures should be in place for sharing resources across state and country boarders. Simply put, if a detonation were to occur, what is needed to have an actionable plan in place. This will an interesting topic to keep an eye on, as it pertains to the global public health sector.
Although modernization in Public Health ranges from daily tasks (physical exercise and cell phone use) to more serious ones (nuclear detonation), the real focus of modernization is for the PUBLIC’S best interest, health and engagement. Crucial questions include, how can advertising make healthy choices easy and fun, what ways are there to structure regulations and rules, and how can cities and towns be restructured to fight the current public health problems. Answers to these questions will lead to a bright future for our country, and for the world. In an environment full of all kinds of noise (work, social media, etc.), a personalized invitation to good health means individuals themselves will want to be more engaged, and with engagement comes results. As one person said so well “by combining better design and better incentives, cities can make sure that ‘the healthy choice is the fun, easy, convenient and attractive choice. ’” (Jessica Brown, City Metric).