What do the water you drink, the food you eat, the precautions you take in a natural disaster and the activities you do to be healthier have in common? They are all tied to public health programs and services, which are highlighted during National Public Health Week, April 2-8.
Since 1995, the first week of April has been designated as National Public Health Week. This is an annual opportunity to raise awareness about different aspects of public health. The Department of Health and Hospitals' Office of Public Health joins other states' health departments for National Public Health Week 2012 in emphasizing small steps people can take to see big improvements in their health.
"As Louisianans, when we talk about public health, we should think of the public's health," said LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein. "We're all responsible for owning our own health and making proactive choices, beginning now. If you smoke, stop. If you eat too much, don't. If you don't exercise, start. With simple steps like these, we can live longer, feel better and have a higher quality of life."
This year, the theme of National Public Health Week is "A Healthier America Begins Today: Join the Movement," focusing on wellness and prevention. The LDH Office of Public Health encompasses a number of programs that teach people how to reduce their risk of chronic diseases, including specific programs for diabetes, heart disease and asthma.
"We are now seeing more people die from chronic diseases than from infectious diseases," said LDH Assistant Secretary for Public Health J.T. Lane. "Chronic disease does not discriminate. It cuts across races, ages and socio-economic levels. During Public Health Week, we remind everyone that you can lower your risk and even prevent chronic diseases by living well - eat fruits and vegetables for a snack, take a walk outside to enjoy the spring weather, ask your friends to support you and help you quit smoking. Focus this week on how you can make your life better through health."
Since most people spend a majority of their days at work, worksite wellness is becoming an increased focus of preventive health efforts. In 2009, the Office of Public Health's Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention program developed a pilot worksite wellness initiative, called Wellness for Life, at LDH headquarters. The initiative encourages employees to make healthy decisions by making preventive screenings, information sessions and wellness activities available in the workplace. Last year, the program partnered with the Louisiana Business Group on Health's Wellness Committee to develop a toolkit that will help other employers implement similar worksite wellness programs.
Another critical area of preventive health is tobacco cessation. The LDH Office of Public Health houses the Louisiana Tobacco Control Program, which offers services to help people quit using tobacco products. The program developed the Tobacco-Free School Policy in 2007, encouraging public school districts throughout the state to prohibit the use of tobacco products at any time on any of their districts' campuses, including sporting events, dances or other events on school property. While State laws prohibit anyone under age 18 from using or buying tobacco products, this policy goes a step further, preventing faculty, staff, volunteers, parents or any other adults on school property from using them. So far, 46 of the State's 70 public school districts have enacted the policy.
According to LDH's Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted through the Louisiana Tobacco Control Program, the use of tobacco products among middle school students decreased from 11 percent in 2009 to 6 percent in 2011, and smokeless tobacco use (e.g. chewing tobacco) among middle school students decreased from 8 percent to 5 percent. The state's overall youth smoking prevalence among middle and high school students was 16 percent in 2009, compared to the national average of 12 percent.
"These policies make the school environment healthier, and by preventing adults from using tobacco in their presence, it sets a good example for the children there," Lane said. "We are working with public school districts that haven't adopted this policy so they will join our fight to prevent the deadly and unhealthy habit of tobacco use."
On Monday, April 9, LDH will become the first State agency to enact a tobacco-free workplace policy for all of its facilities. All State buildings are smoke-free, but this policy prohibits anyone from using any kind of tobacco products inside a LDH facility or on the grounds.
"As the state's primary health agency, we should lead by example," Greenstein said. "This policy demonstrates our commitment to encouraging all Louisiana residents to take responsibility for their health as individuals, families and communities."
In addition to preventing chronic diseases, the LDH Office of Public Health has a robust Sanitarian Services program to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. LDH sanitarians conduct health inspections of all retail food establishments, and Louisiana is one of only 12 states that posts statewide data online, at www.eatsafe.la.gov, putting information directly into the public's hands.
On this site, residents can view the three most recent health inspection reports for restaurants, grocery stores and other retail food establishments throughout Louisiana. LDH provides www.eatsafe.la.gov widgets on the site, so that other businesses and health organizations can feature this information on their websites.
For more information about the variety of public health services and programs the LDH Office of Public Health offers, visit http://www.oph.dhh.louisiana.gov. For information about National Public Health Week, visit www.nphw.org.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook.