Public health and social justice go hand in hand

By Scott W. Lindquist, MD

As part of National Public Health Week, it’s a good time to talk about one of the most important, but often overlooked, roles of public health — advocating for social justice.

Today in the U.S., the single largest cause of poor health outcomes is chronic disease. This is frustrating, because it’s largely preventable. Evidence now proves that the most powerful predictor of whether a person will develop a chronic disease is their socioeconomic status. This is because higher income increases the probability that people can and will choose healthier food and activity levels, and that they will suffer less from chronic stress, which interacts with the immune and neurological system to set up risk factors for many chronic diseases.

How do we battle this? At the national and local level your public health staff work with elected officials, planners, community organizations and citizens like you to advocate for policies and laws that promote social justice. Whether increasing the number of living-wage jobs and affordable rents, ensuring people get access to critical health care services or making sure that city plans include safe parks and healthy food stores in poorer neighborhoods — we are at the table advocating for our most vulnerable citizens.

It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, because if we don’t eliminate health inequalities in this generation, we will all bear the future costs to our medical system, families, businesses and our quality of life.

What can you do? We can start by learning more about the problem. Rent “Unnatural Causes,” a powerful video produced by PBS. Share it with your friends, your faith group and community organizations. In one hour, it may change the way you think about things ­ and may spur you to action. Public health does not work in a vacuum — we need our entire community to work with us as we improve our collective health — one generation at a time.

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