Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Policy makes it possible

Are any of you old enough to remember the cigarette ads that had doctors and dentists endorsing certain brands? How about riding in the back of your parents’ car not only without a child safety seat, but even without a seatbelt?

Public health victories such as clean indoor air, motorcycle helmet and child safety seat laws have been possible because the public health community cares, especially about prevention. That was the message at today’s session on “Promoting Health Equity Through the National Prevention Strategy: Implications for Social Work.”

Social workers have been instrumental in affecting change and are critical to ensuring an increased emphasis on prevention, said Larry Cohen, founder and executive director of the Prevention Institute.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do, but we’re building a movement and we’re building it together,” he said, remembering being told it was “impossible” to make progress on tobacco control.

“It’s always impossible, and then we get it done,” he told session attendees.

Marice Ashe of ChangeLab Solutions showed a few slides that illustrated health inequities: too many liquor stores and fast food restaurants and far too few accessible sidewalks and parks in lower-income neighborhoods. How can public health workers improve community opportunities to help drive down health disparities? By helping advocate for policy change, she said.

That’s how affordable housing gets built in underserved neighborhoods. That’s how access to fresh, healthy foods improves. Policy makes it possible for roadways to be built with safe crosswalks, navigable sidewalks, and proximity to open spaces giving kids and adults places to exercise and play.

“You are not alone in this,” Ashe said of public health workers interested in advocating for policies that aim to reduce health disparities. “You’ve got backup and support.”

Check out the ChangeLab Solutions site for tools to help you advocate for meaningful policy change. Learn more about the National Prevention Strategy at www.healthcare.gov/prevention/nphpphc. And to learn more about the above Prevention Institute video on ways food companies are targeting kids with unhealthy foods, click here.

— D.C.

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