Dolores Huerta has a message for public health workers: use social change to improve people’s health.

“We need to empower people — I think that’s what social change is,” Huerta told APHA TV last November at the APHA Annual Meeting and Expo in San Diego. “It’s empowering people in their local communities so that they can then engage by participation, but also by voting on changing the policies that affect their health and electing people to office who will actually advocate for their health.”

Huerta speaks from decades of experience. Now president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in the early 1960s alongside fellow activist César Chávez. Over the years, she helped secure a number of unprecedented policy wins for California farmworkers, including a landmark 1975 state law giving farmworkers the right to collectively organize and negotiate for better working conditions. In 2012, her years of activism and organizing were honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.

Of course, public health is no stranger to policymaking. Evidence-based public health policies — such as tobacco restrictions and vaccine requirements — save millions of lives every year. But as public health moves upstream to achieve health equity and tackle the social roots of poor health, Huerta said civic engagement will be an increasingly important tool.

“In many communities where (people) are disempowered, they don’t really have a voice,” she told APHA TV, calling on health organizations to educate their communities about the importance of voting. “So giving those people a voice goes a long way toward solving the ultimate problems we might have on health issues.”

Visit APHA TV to watch Huerta’s full remarks as well as all the episodes from San Diego. APHA’s next big gathering happens on Feb. 6 in Washington, D.C., when policy and public health leaders will come together for “Public Health Under Siege: Improving Policy In Turbulent Times.” For information or to register for the one-day policy meeting, visit

For more video from the 2018 APHA Annual Meeting and Expo, register for APHA Live. APHA Live includes on-demand, online access to 14 of the top sessions from the APHA Annual Meeting and the opportunity to earn up to 19 free continuing education credits. For even more educational programming from APHA 2018, consider RAMP, which includes synced PowerPoint presentations and voice recording of scientific sessions from the San Diego meeting.