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 Friday’s theme, “Be the healthiest nation in one generation.”

Students are the future of public health

Irene D. Reyes

Irene D. Reyes

by Irene D. Reyes, APHA Student Assembly National Public Health Week Co-Chair, APHA Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Section, PRSH Section Member

Friday April 11 has been selected as Public Health Student Day for NPHW. The daily theme, “Be the healthiest nation in one generation,” fits with celebrating students this day. As students we hold a great responsibility to learning new public health practices. We are the present and future of public health. We are a generation with newer technology, stronger advocacy, and increased knowledge.

As an MPH student at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas, I am striving to research opportunities to encourage adolescents to be a healthy generation. Part of this includes disseminating information on sexual responsibility.

I encourage all public health students to strive to be the healthiest nation in one generation. May we learn from our colleagues and mentors about the best practices in order to successfully implement them into our communities. Let our study habits, stress relievers, safe driving, sexual responsibility, and other health behaviors set an example to our communities. May we press forward in our academic career to increase in knowledge and disseminate information back to our communities. I hope students take full advantage of this season in life to embrace the opportunities before us. We have the ability to make change. Let us go out and together be the healthiest nation in one generation.

Community water fluoridation the most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay

Howard Pollick

by Howard Pollick, APHA Oral Health Section, APHA

Fluoride is nature’s cavity fighter, being naturally present in all drinking water. Community water fluoridation is simply the adjustment of the amount of fluoride to the recommended amount to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoridation is a public health measure designed to improve health and quality of life through prevention.

Because of its role in preventing cavities, fluoridation of community water supplies has been proclaimed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. According to the best available scientific evidence and nearly 70 years of experience fluoridation is safe, effective and economical in preventing tooth decay. Today, three in four Americans on public water supplies, nearly 211 million people, benefit from fluoridated water.

Studies show that community water fluoridation prevents at least 25 percent of tooth decay in children and adults, even with the widespread use of fluoride-containing products such as toothpaste. Fluoridation also saves money. For communities, every $1 invested in water fluoridation saves $38 in dental treatment costs.

The bottom line is that community water fluoridation remains the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay. That is why the past five Surgeon Generals and organizations such as the American Public Health Association, American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and more than 100 other international organizations recognize the public health benefits of fluoridation. Please visit APHA’s policy on fluoridation.

Community health workers are critical

Debra Jackson

by Debra Jackson, APHA Maternal and Child Health Section,  International Health Section, Epidemiology Section, Intersectional Council Steering Committee,

Community Health Workers, or CHWs, are promoting healthy nations worldwide. APHA policy defines CHWs as: “frontline public health workers who are trusted members of and /or have an unusually close understanding of the community served. This trusting relationship enables CHWs to serve as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery. CHWs also build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge and self-sufficiency through a range of activities such as outreach, community education, informal counselling, social support and advocacy.”

In Maternal and Child Health, CHWs provide much needed links for mothers and children to health services in their communities. In addition to health promotion CHWs in many developing countries are providing timely treatment of common childhood illnesses. An international symposium sponsored by UNICEF and others in Ghana this March showcased best practices of integrated community case management of childhood illnesses by CHWs. These programs address inequities faced by disadvantaged populations to increase access to life-saving treatments.  In the U.S. CHWs are included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as members of health care teams and a recent change to Medicaid rules allows for possible reimbursement for preventive services offered by CHWs. This innovative and exciting cadre in our health care workforce has the possibility to enhance our outreach to needy populations, especially mothers and children. Their work will be critical if we are to achieve our goal of becoming “the healthiest nation in one generation.”

Good nutrition at an early age the key to generational health

by Deidra Chester, APHA Food and Nutrition Section

If we want to be the healthiest nation in one generation it is imperative that we focus on ensuring good nutrition from an early age, especially since we know that dietary patterns are set in early life.

This is however easier said than done. The reality is that we have very little scientific evidence supporting the most effective way to help parents help their children.

We need more research to help us understand what drives the behaviour of these young children and their parents, and how we can impact the drivers. One study to keep on the horizon, as we think about creating a healthier generation of children, is the Colorado Leap Study funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and is being conducted by Dr.  Laura Bellows.

The Colorado LEAP study is a study located in five rural Colorado pre-school centers and elementary schools. The program uses The Food Friends nutrition and physical activity interventions during preschool and follows the children until first grade. The Food Friends is a research-based pre-school program designed to address childhood obesity by establishing healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in pre-school aged children. This longitudinal study will explore the relationships among eating habits, physical activity patterns, and weight status within and across spheres of the social ecological model. Results of this study will be helpful in establishing guidelines that can be share with parents, caregivers and community leaders who are looking to effect a change in this important age group.

Stay tuned!

Let’s focus on cultural competency

Elena Ong

by Elena Ong, APHA Public Health Nursing Section, Governing Council Member, Asian Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health; Perfecto Munoz, APHA Equal Health Opportunity Committee, Latino Caucus

In 2012, 50.4 percent of America’s children under one year old were racial or ethnic minorities. By 2018, America’s children will be “majority minority,” and by 2043, America will become “majority minority.” America’s minorities experience a significant share of health disparities, so how do we become the healthiest nation in one generation?

By closing the health disparities gap, and preventing the gap from widening, in a generation.

After all, America will become 19 percent Latino, 16 percent Black, 8 percent Asian American and 2 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native by 2030.

Let’s focus on America’s fastest growing populations: Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. Between 2000 and 2010 these populations grew 46, 40 and 43 percent. Many are limited English proficient.

Let’s focus on baby boomers. Between 2000 and 2010 the 60-64 age demographic increased by 56 percent .

Perfecto Munoz

Let’s focus on America’s fastest growing poverty segment. Between 2007 and 2011, when America’s overall poverty rate increased 27 percent post-recession, the number of Native Hawaiians Pacific Islanders poor increased by 60 percent, Latinos by 42 percent and Asian Americans by 37 percent.

Let’s promote healthful solutions that have sustainable impact.

Currently, 30.1 percent of Latinos, 18.1 percent of Native Hawaiians Pacific Islanders and 15.4 percent of Asian Americans don’t have health insurance.

By expanding access through the Affordable Care Act we have an opportunity to transform health and narrow the health gap.  By using culturally- and linguistically-appropriate consumer engagement, community empowerment, and e-health, we can nip health disparities in the bud, and improve the quality, and e-quality, of minority health, wealth and equity — not only in one generation but for generations to come.

Lack of evidence for prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth

Jay Friedman

by Jay W. Friedman, APHA Oral Health Section

Wisdom teeth that cause chronic pain and infection­, cysts, and actual damage to adjacent teeth should be removed. There is no justification for the prophylactic extraction of asymptomatic wisdom teeth. These procedures injure thousands of people, causing permanent numbness of the lips and tongue from nerve damage, temporomandibular joint pain, fracture of adjacent teeth and, occasionally, the jaw. Oral surgeons also promote general anesthesia, which has inherent risks including death, even though most extractions can be done easily and more safely with a local anesthetic injection at no additional charge.

Having been forced by lack of evidence to abandon their claim that retained wisdom teeth cause a lot of pathology, oral surgeons now say that most wisdom teeth develop periodontal disease that will spread throughout the mouth — and therefore should be removed. This claim is not supported by independent research and is based on a spurious definition of periodontal disease ― a 4 millimeter periodontal pocket ― that in time could apply to virtually all molars and many other teeth.

Recognizing the lack of an evidence basis for asymptomatic wisdom tooth extractions, APHA adopted a policy statement in “Opposition to Prophylactic Removal of Third Molars.”