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Our Opinion: Everyone has a role in advancing public health

Our Opinion: Everyone has a role in advancing public health

April 5th, 2012 in News

The health of a community is the sum total of the health of its individual members.

During National Public Health Week, observed through Sunday, public health officials are promoting awareness of both personal and community health.

Public health often is associated with curbing the spread of communicable diseases.

That certainly is part of the effort, but public health extends to much more, including promoting balanced diets and active lifestyles. The effort also includes identifying associated risks: workplace and occupation injuries; alcohol and drug abuse; sexually transmitted diseases; and mental and emotional disorders, including depression.

Obesity and its effect on public health was a focal point in a guest column by a Cole County Health Department official.

In the column published in Tuesday's News Tribune Health Section, Rachael Hahn, an epidemiology specialist and public health emergency planner, attributed 35 percent of county fatalities in 2009 to obesity-related chronic diseases.

Hahn revealed that a person's health habits and decisions are not entirely individual, but are influenced by "social determinants" and "environmental factors."

As examples, she cited:

• A 2007 study that found weight gain may be perceived as more "normal" - and, therefore, more socially acceptable - by a person who has an overweight or obese friend.

• Research last year that revealed people who attend a church function at least once a week are more likely to be overweight when they reach middle age. The link between church activities and high-calorie foods is suspected as the cause.

This and other data indicates personal health may not be entirely personal, after all.

In addition to the genetic factor, our health depends on our behaviors, which are influenced by our associations and our environment.

Individual health and community health are intertwined. When you improve your personal health, you elevate public health.