Each day during National Public Health Week, Public Health Newswire will feature guest commentary from our members focusing on the day’s theme. Here are a collection of vignettes promoting Monday’s theme, “Be healthy from the start.”

For early childhood health, mom’s mouth matters

Alice Horowitz

Alice Horowitz

by Alice Munkhoff Horowitz, Phd, MA, APHA Oral Health Section; and Sarah Radice, BS

The health of mom’s mouth during and after pregnancy can influence not only her own oral health but also her child’s oral health — even before her baby is born.

We know poor oral health is not inevitable. Dental disease and disease disparities are preventable and keeping baby oral disease free starts with mom’s mouth during pregnancy. When mom gets her cavities filled before she delivers her baby and brushes twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, she improves the chance her baby stays cavity-free.

Starting soon after birth, mom can keep her baby cavity free through simple self-care. To keep baby cavity free:

  • Wipe baby’s mouth with a clean damp washcloth daily;
  • Once a month, ‘lift the lip” to look for early signs of decay — such as white lines — along the gum lines once teeth erupt;
  • Clean new teeth with a smear of fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush;
  • Never put a baby to bed with a bottle;
  • Establish a dental home by first tooth or first birthday;
  • Ask your doctor about fluoride varnish;
  • Request “lift the Lip” educational materials from SRadice@umd.edu

The Breastfeeding Committee: Be healthy from the start

Briana Jegier

Briana Jegier

by Briana J. Jegier, PhD, APHA Maternal and Child Health Section

National Public Health Week begins by calling on us to “Be Healthy from the Start.” Our support for a healthy start begins by safeguarding access to evidenced-based prenatal education to ensure that every family is educated on safe birth practices and breastfeeding.

Further, we need to remove breastfeeding barriers for all ages, races, ethnicities and cultures so that families are empowered to make informed decisions — while not being sabotaged by a lack of evidence-based education, inconsistent support from healthcare providers, and unsupportive policies and practices at workplaces, schools, and in society. Promoting a healthy start extends beyond pregnancy, childbirth and infancy. Universal pre-kindergarten, healthy lunch programs, school health centers and K-12 health and physical education curriculum also contribute to a healthy start. Children who are healthy individuals, develop healthy habits, live in safe communities, and have a well-rounded education are more likely to be healthy, productive citizens, and to forge healthy families.

Today, we urge you to take action to improve the chance for a healthy start for all families and children. Call your congressperson to urge her or him to support healthy family initiatives, like FAMILY and SWMA. Or act locally by joining or starting initiatives to support the families in your community. Together we can bring about the changes needed to “be healthy from the start” in one generation.

Here’s to healthy kids, dads and families

Brandon Leonard

Brandon Leonard

by Brandon Leonard, MA, APHA Men’s Health Caucus, International Health Section and Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section

Good health starts at home and involves the whole family. Fathers play a very important role in the health outcomes of their children. In fact recent research indicates that a father’s diet may have just as much effect on the health of a baby as the mother’s.  We know that as kids grow, having an involved father has a positive impact on how well they do in school, socialize with other kids and deal with difficult situations. Children with involved fathers are also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or end up in the criminal justice system.

One of the best ways that dads can have a positive impact on the health of their kids is by being a good role model.  Eating healthy foods and getting your kids involved in preparing their meals gets them thinking about the choices they’ll make and what kind of foods they prefer. Getting plenty of exercise is also very important. You can make this fun by getting your kids involved in games, sports and other activities that you can enjoy together.

While you’re at it, take a look at your own health.  Have you had a check-up lately? Be sure you’re staying on top of your numbers, including cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure. You want to make sure you’re around for years to come to guide your kids to the best possible health. Here’s to healthy kids, healthy dads and healthy families!

Being prepared starts at home

Cynthia Stone

Cynthia Stone

by Cynthia Stone, APHA Public Health Nursing Section

I teach an emergency preparedness course for public health and nursing students and always start by asking students if they have a “to go kit” at home, or in their car or at work. The response is usually, “No, and what is it?”

We talk about emergency supplies that should be ready to use at home or to take if you have to evacuate. The lists of suggested supplies can be quite long and expensive.

One tip I have received and share is to buy something each month and note the date on the items. Over a year you can gradually build up your supplies with water one month, ready to eat foods and a can opener the next month. Then the following year, replace them so they stay fresh. Being prepared starts at home.

Eliminating health disparities is the best way to start and stay healthy

Derrick Matthews

Derrick Matthews

by Derrick D. Matthews, APHA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus of Public Health Professionals Section, APHA HIV/AIDS and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Section.

This year’s National Public Health Week launches by highlighting the importance of being “healthy from the start.” This mission is especially salient as we think about eliminating health disparities, particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

LGBT adolescents are at increased risk for a variety of contributors to morbidity and mortality, such as tobacco and other drug use, poor mental health and increased risk of suicide. The presence of health disparities so early in the life-course reveals a reality antithetical to today’s theme.

Our country’s LGBT youth live in an environment that makes them unhealthy from the start. School anti-bullying policies which are inclusive of and specifically enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity are just one example of interventions that have been demonstrated to sever this link to poor health, while promoting the health of all children.

Policies such as employment non-discrimination and marriage equality also have tangible effects on the health of all LGBT individuals. The greatest public health prevention successes have come about through policy and structural changes that directly address social determinants of health. Starting healthy requires that we in public health use science as a tool to advocate for direct intervention upon fundamental causes of disease, which include social factors such as prejudice and discrimination directed at LGBT persons.

Focusing on upstream causes of illness will allow us to fulfill our promise to eliminate health disparities by creating an environment where individuals start healthy and are empowered to remain that way throughout their life.

Public health begins with breastfeeding

Mary Woelfel

Mary Woelfel

by Mary Woelfel, MPH, IBCLC, APHA Maternal and Child Health Section, Public Health Education and Promotion Section, APHA Breastfeeding Forum

“Public Health begins with breastfeeding.” That’s my email tagline to remind people of the important role breastfeeding plays in preventing the high rates of obesity and diabetes that we are battling across the nation.

The theme of the first day of National Public Health Week is Be Healthy From the Start.  In keeping with this theme, APHA’s Breastfeeding Forum issues this call to action: Call your senators and congressional representatives today at 202-224-3121. Urge them to sign on as co-sponsors of the Family and Medical Insurance Act (FAMILY) and the Supporting Working Moms Act (SWMA).

These bills would provide critical support for breastfeeding women and their families. The FAMILY Act would create a national family- and medical-leave insurance program allowing new parents to take up to 12 weeks of leave at reduced pay to care for their infants. SWMA would require employers to provide salaried women with unpaid break time and a private space to express milk at work.

Breastfeeding women planning to return to work are often challenged and discouraged by a lack of paid maternity leave and other supportive policies at their workplaces. The FAMILY ACT and SWMA would reduce obstacles and promote healthy communities.

If we are serious about recognizing breastfeeding as a public health issue we cannot limit our efforts to just educating individual women. We need to strengthen the societal and systems support we provide to families.

Call your legislators now!

Support reproductive health of all women

Rizalyn Vargas

Rizalyn Vargas

by Rizalyn Vargas, APHA Population, Reproductive, Sexual Health Section

It is not improbable to proclaim that the health and longevity of any community begins with ensuring the reproductive health of all women is thoroughly supported. Now that 4.2 million more Americans have health insurance through President Obama’s landmark legislation, the Affordable Care Act, the potential victory for women’s reproductive health is insurmountable. Contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, such as birth control and intrauterine devices, are accessible to women through Marketplace Exchanges, employer health insurance, or Medicaid.

For the woman, who at one point could only hope for affordable and easier access to basic yet crucial services, contraceptive counseling may be provided through particular insurance plans which ensure that family planning can become a reality. Most especially, when a woman lives below the federal poverty level but decides to have children if and when she is ready, the health of her child will not be compromised by inadequate nutrition or necessary but delayed services.

This notion must also encompass men, who can support their female partners in their reproductive choices. When everyone has a stake in the reproductive health of women, the public’s health flourishes from the start.

Nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life

Wendy Johnson-Askew

Wendy Johnson-Askew

by Wendy Johnson-Askew, APHA Food and Nutrition Section

Nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life — prenatal to 2 years — is important to the health trajectory of the individual over the life span. Findings from a 2008 feeding infant and toddler study showed us that young children’s dietary patterns appear to be set by the age of 2 because those patterns are similar to those of the adult diet.

Needless to say the importance of nutrition in early childhood is becoming increasingly clear. In 2020 we can expect our first dietary guidelines for children under the age of 2, which is amazing when you think that we have had dietary guidelines for Americans 2 years and older since 1980.

Dietary guidelines for children under the age of 2 will provide us the opportunity to provide American families the information they need to help their children become healthy from the start. Currently parents receive intense nutrition support during the well-baby visits. However once well-child visits end families are provided very little guidance on nutrition. This is often when we see diets go off the track.

On behalf of the members of the Food and Nutrition Section I ask that you join us in advocating for funding and implementation of dietary guidelines for children under 2. Join with us to help young children be healthy form the start.