What the Experts Want Us to Know About Public Health

That’s where public health comes in. Consider antismoking commercials late in the last century, for example. Or as Richard Besser, the president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, put it, public health has kept us safe “from infectious diseases through immunizations, information, mosquito control and food safety.”

“It ensures that our water is safe to drink and our pools and lakes are safe for swimming,” he added. “It provides screening for cancer and works to prevent injuries.”

Karen DeSalvo, a former New Orleans health commissioner, said: “Of the $1 trillion in federal spending, only 1 percent is on public health — an infrastructure that saves lives” and that can “reduce suffering and improve community well-being and vitality.”

We could do a better job at providing access to the things we know that already work. Ursula Bauer, who manages the nation’s chronic disease prevention portfolio at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “Not all adults have access to appropriate cancer screenings, and we don’t do a good job of managing high blood pressure.” She added: “It’s very difficult for most Americans to integrate routine physical activity into our lives. We don’t have destinations within walking distance or sidewalks to get there. We can’t find the stairs to use in most buildings.”

Thomas Farley, the health commissioner for Philadelphia, said, “There’s a lot of money to be made selling products that, over the long term, kill people.” These include tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food, addictive drugs (legal and illegal) and guns.

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