Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Attendees talk about air quality concerns during the group discussion session of the Dialogue on Collaboration event at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.

National Public Health Week is here. If the first thing that came to mind was, "So what?" or maybe, "Why does that even matter?" then you are not alone. We celebrate National Public Health Week, April 1-7, because “everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life in a safe environment,” as the National Public Health Week website states. The week is a time for all of us to focus on what we can do to make our own communities healthier places to live. The theme for the 2019 National Public Health Week is “Creating the Healthiest Nation: For science. For action. For health.”

How does public health make a difference in my life or make my community stronger? Many people wonder what public health practitioners do. Public health encompasses many professions, all dedicated to keeping people healthy at the population and community level. First responders, restaurant inspectors, health educators, environmental scientists, researchers, nutritionists, community planners, social workers, epidemiologists, physicians, nurses, occupational health and safety officers and sanitarians and others work and advocate for public policy that moves in the direction of health equity. In the words of Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, “Forget genetic code. A zip code can make a difference of 15 years or more in life expectancy.”

This matters in Utah because, as seen in the recently released County Health Rankings & Roadmap, not everyone living in Utah starts or ends up in a healthy place. The differences across communities — be it Trax station, zip code or county line — are dramatic. Utah does well in obesity prevention, smoking rates and cancer deaths when compared to other states. However, 11 percent of Utah’s children live in poverty, rates that range from 5 percent to 33 percent, depending on where you live. Poverty limits opportunities for housing, neighborhood safety, access to healthy food and quality education.

Public health policy promotes responsible environmental stewardship, active surveillance for threats to public safety or well-being, access to appropriate treatment to support physical and mental health and science-based solutions to the major health problems that plague society today.

Public health professionals focus on prevention, providing education and access to resources so that you can make decisions about your health. We emphasize early access to vaccinations, preventing risky sexual behaviors, warning people about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse, and in all ways paving the way for people to live safe and disease-free lives.

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The Utah Public Health Association invites everyone to celebrate the 2019 legislative wins that will result in a healthier Utah — Medicaid expansion, better air quality, reductions in tobacco use among minors and safer walking and biking routes to school for thousands of school children. However you share your passion, whatever social media effort you prefer, and be it violence prevention, universal access to health care, clean air, nutrition, fitness, drug abuse prevention or other public health topics, let your friends, family and neighbors know that the public’s health matters to you. Your opinion is important and it needs to become part of the discussion that will lead to solutions.

Let National Public Health Week be your call to action to help eliminate the conditions that lead to suffering and early death and encourage behaviors, attitudes and policies that promote wellness for everyone.