Happy New Year! For the January newsletter edition, the H.E.R.E. Team came up with 5 resolutions for a healthy 2014!
Resolution #1: Learn about Public Health’s Role in Climate Change through an Interview with Jerrod Davis
There has been a growing focus on climate change both nationally and locally. President Obama created a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience that our very own Governor Inslee was appointed to serve on. The news and media are picking up stories about what climate change means for our weather. The impacts on our environment are becoming more apparent to the general public as wildfires become more devastating and natural disasters more frequent. But, what does climate change mean in terms of our health? Not just in terms of the health of our families and communities, but also in terms of our work as public health professionals?
Jerrod Davis, Office Director for Shellfish and Water Protection and Climate Change Lead at the Department of Health, understands the connection between public health and climate change quite clearly. Climate change will ultimately affect three basic public health priorities: Food safety, clean water, and clean air. It is easy to take the shellfish industry as an example. Warmer temperatures are already affecting shellfish safety and toxicity. Other public health impacts may include higher rates of heat-related illnesses, respiratory illnesses, vector-borne diseases, and mental health stress.
As public health professionals, we have a lot we can contribute to climate change work. We have a responsibility to be at the table and an opportunity to frame climate change as a public health issue. But with climate change being such a complex issue, our opportunities will also be our challenges. Here are some of the things Jerrod recommends we consider:
Opportunity/challenge #1: The impacts on public health resonate with people. Jerrod has seen communities rally together over pollution prevention programs, for the sake of food safety.
Opportunity/challenge #2: We’re good at looking at data. Not only do we need to look at what the data is telling us about the past, we need to be able to use it to track the right indicators to help us to respond to future challenges.
Opportunity/challenge #3: We have experience communicating about risk. With all of the work we have done around emergency preparedness, preparing for emergencies and risk communication about climate change is a natural fit.
Opportunity/challenge #4: We can build off of our existing programs to address climate change. We don’t need to create a new climate change program, we need to apply a climate change lens to the work we already do.
Opportunity/challenge #5: We tend to focus upstream. Our prevention perspective is useful when working with other agencies and community partners.
Opportunity/challenge #6: We understand behavior change theory. Some communities have a harder time accepting climate change than others. We need to look at what the impacts will mean for these communities—whether that is food, drinking water, agriculture, or business—and find new ways to articulate how it impacts them accordingly.
Opportunity/challenge #7: We are good story tellers. An important part of our role is telling the story of the communities that will be and already are most affected by climate change. For example, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe tells a compelling story about how climate change will affect their way of life. The biggest threats include impacts to their food (salmon and shellfish) and water (rising sea levels and reduced water supply). We need to make our work about health, about people, and the local impact.
The Department of Health is developing a new climate change website. In the meantime, for more information about the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest, visit the University of Washington’s Climate Impact’s Group website; and for more information on the impact of climate change on public health, visit the CDC’s Climate and Health Program. For examples of actions you can take to slow climate change, visit the Department of Ecology’s Climate Change webpage.
Resolution #2: Work to Reduce Health Inequity
The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) most recent resource on health equity, A Practitioner’s Guide to Advancing Health Equity, opens by acknowledging that “despite decades of efforts to reduce and eliminate health disparities, they persist—and in some cases, they are widening among some population groups.” The fact that inequity remains a constant or even growing reality for some of our most vulnerable populations, begs us to look a little deeper at how we can impact the root causes.
The guide has four sections. Section 1, Incorporating Equity into Foundational Skills of Public Health, is useful for public health professionals across all sectors. This section encourages public health professionals to think about how we can incorporate health equity in the seven skills below. Self-reflection questions follow each skill area.
Building Organizational Capacity
- What is your organization’s stated commitment to health equity? Is this commitment documented and widely understood?
Engaging Community Members
- Do any strained relationships exist in the community? Why do they exist?
Developing Partnerships and Coalitions
- What process can you develop to regularly assess your partnerships/coalitions to see who else should be invited to help advance your goals of achieving health equity?
Identifying and Analyzing Health Inequities
- Where can you go to understand the historical context of health inequities in the community
Selecting, Designing, and Implementing Strategies
- How can you ensure selected strategies build on one another to form a comprehensive approach that advances the achievement of health equity in your community?
Developing Effective Communication Efforts
- How receptive are your key stakeholders towards adopting a health equity approach?
- How can you reframe or create new evaluation questions to better understand your impact on health inequities?
See the full report for more information on incorporating health equity into the above seven skills. The report also includes three subsequent sections:
- Maximizing Tobacco-Free Living Strategies to Advance Health Equity.
- Maximizing Healthy Food and Beverage Strategies to Advance Health Equity.
- Maximizing Active Living Strategies to Advance Health Equity.
Resolution #3: Learn How to Communicate Effectively in Emergency Situations
Health educators play an important role in crisis and emergency situations. They understand the important health information that needs to be relayed, and they have an in depth understanding of the communities the information needs to reach. Through their community health work, health educators are respected and trusted by the communities they work with. They often have established ways of effectively communicating on the ground level.
Even with an in depth understanding of target communities, health professionals across the field can benefit from training on how to effectively communicate in emergency situations. The Harvard School of Public Health has a three part online course on Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication for Health Educators that helps educators:
- Learn about their role in crisis and emergency situations—including communications and evacuation planning.
- Recognize common reactions including emotional, physical, interpersonal, and cognitive reactions.
- Consider the need to tailor messages and use different communication channels to reach certain segments of the population.
Health educators should also make sure they themselves are prepared for emergency and crisis situations. The Department of Health has an Emergency Communications Toolkit with a lot of useful resources. The CDC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Center also has an easy-to-follow list of items needed for an emergency kit.
Resolution #4: Find Your Way to Cope with Stress
Most of us experience stress on a regular basis, although we may not be aware of it. Stress can be mild, such as watching a scary movie; major, such as going through a divorce; or extreme, such as exposure to violence. At this time of year, we feel mild stress when we feel the pressure to make a list of New Year’s resolutions that we hope to keep. Over time, continued stress can put a strain on our body that may lead to serious health problems.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has prepared a fact sheet that offers some ways to cope with stress. Here’s a chance to pick one that works for you. Now when a friend asks if you have made any New Year’s resolutions, you can share your favorite stress reducer by inviting them to walk with you for 30 minutes.
To learn more about coping with stress, read the fact sheet: Adult Stress–Frequently Asked Questions, a Factsheet from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Resolution #5: Resolve to Eat Your Fruits and Veggies!
Eating healthier commonly ends up on the resolution list. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program came up with an easy list of 55 ways to add more fruits and vegetables every day into our diets. Here’s a preview:
- Top cereal with fresh or dried fruit.
- Stir dried fruit into your muffin mix.
- Add zucchini, carrot, or sweet pepper strips to your lunch bag.
- Use spinach, tomatoes, and cucumbers in sandwiches instead of lettuce.
- Put fruits and vegetables out while dinner is being prepared.
- Prepare a berry spritzer by adding berry puree to sparkling water.
- Add vegetables to a can of soup.
- Top a baked potato with salsa.
- Bake pears or bananas with brown sugar and pineapple juice. Stuff them with raisins or and spices.
- Top off a piece of angel food cake with fresh fruit.
Have a Happy and Healthy 2014!