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Health Department Celebrates National Public Health Week

Arkansas Department of Health ( A D H ) National Public Health Week PictureThe Arkansas Department of Health kicked off National Public Health Week for the state with a press conference on April 7 at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library in Little Rock. Nate Smith, MD, MPH, the ADH Director and State Health Officer; James Raczynski, PhD, Dean of the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; and Katrina Betancourt, Chair-Elect of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention (ArCOP), spoke at the event, addressing the unique public health roles of the state health department, the state’s only college of public health, and ArCOP.

Annual observance of NPHW the first week each April is led by the American Public Health Association. Now in its 20th year, NPHW is a time to recognize the contributions of public health and educate the public and policymakers on issues related to the year’s theme, which for 2015 is “Healthiest nation 2030: Let’s make America the healthiest nation in one generation.” Arkansas Department of Health organizes NPHW for the state.

Dr. Smith and Dr. Raczynski both noted the fact that the United States, despite its medical care that is the best and most costly in the world, lags behind many nations in life expectancy and other measures of health. They called for greater investment in disease prevention and for strategies that are community-oriented and innovative.

“The health of a community begins with good community resources,” Dr. Smith said. “This library is a shining example of thinking outside of the box on ways to make a community healthy and support people becoming healthy. The Arkansas Department of Health cannot do it alone.”

Dr. Raczynski noted that for the population to be healthy, strong systems of both medical care and public health prevention are essential.

“It is necessary to have advanced health care, but it is not sufficient,” Dr. Raczynski said. “It requires a balanced approach between health care and prevention of the root causes of disease. Those root causes are grounded in poverty, poor education and lifestyle issues, such as obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and excess alcohol use. Those are the root causes to prevent if we want good health for all.”

Ms. Betancourt explained that ArCOP is a huge statewide coalition dedicated to reducing obesity in the state through a focus on health environments and healthy homes. Priority areas for ArCOP are access to healthy foods, the built environment, worksite wellness and school health. An initiative of ArCOP, Growing Healthy Communities (GHC), “works across all four [priority areas],” Ms. Betancourt said.

The GHC initiative involves elected officials, business leaders, health workers, educators and citizens and supports them in collaborative efforts to make their communities healthier and more livable. An aspect of the GHC initiative is the Mayors Mentoring Mayors program, which engages mayors of Arkansas towns and cities that have made health a priority of their administration.

“They help other mayors make their communities healthy places to live,” Ms. Betancourt said.