As the nation’s doctor, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin yesterday prescribed new medicine to keep Americans healthy: walking.

In a video address marking the start of National Public Health Week, the surgeon general announced the launch of the “Everybody Walks” campaign. The new national initiative, which will encourage citizens to take steps toward better health, supports her goal of achieving a healthier and fitter nation.

“I’m asking Americans to just walk,” she said. “It’s a simple form of physical activity and it has enormous health benefits.”

Her announcement kicked off a week of activities that she said was “dedicated to recognizing the tremendous value that a strong public health system brings to protecting the health of Americans in communities all across our country.”

“This year, National Public Health Week reminds us that when we invest in public health, we get big returns,” she said.

In addition to underscoring the importance of physical activity such as walking, she pointed to routine childhood vaccinations, which save almost $10 million in direct health care costs, save 30,000 lives and prevent 14 million cases of disease. And she said a simple investment in a child safety seat prevents thousands of dollars in medical costs.

“By adequately supporting public health, we can achieve the National Prevention Strategy’s goal of moving our nation’s health care system from one focused on disease and illness to one focused on wellness and prevention.”

National Public Health Week, organized by the American Public Health Association, is celebrated this year April 1-7.

A 30-day public comment period on the surgeon general’s call to action on walking opened this week as well. Published  in the federal register, the notice requests information on ways to increase walking and community walkability, including barriers to walking and evidence-based strategies for overcoming those barriers. The comment period ends April 30.

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