By U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA
I am a long-time champion of the power of prevention. As a family physician, I learned there were problems my prescription pad alone couldn’t solve – that if I wanted my patients to be healthier, I had to address issues like low literacy and access to healthy food.
Today, prevention is the foundation of my work as Surgeon General. Health does not occur in a doctor’s office alone: health also occurs where we live, learn, work, play, and pray. It is my privilege to chair the National Prevention Council. Established by the Affordable Care Act and Executive Order 13544, the Council was designed to bring federal departments and agencies together to support health and prevention.
In 2011, we released the National Prevention Strategy, which includes four Strategic Directions that provide the foundation for our nation’s prevention efforts: healthy and safe community environments, empowered people, elimination of health disparities, and clinical and community preventive services. Working together, we can achieve the Strategy’s vision of moving from a focus on sickness and disease to one based on wellness and prevention.
Our communities have great potential, but barriers can make reaching that potential challenging. Limited resources, unhealthy housing, pollution, and other environmental justice issues can lead to poorer health. In the United States, health disparities are closely linked with social, economic and environmental disadvantages. Lack of prevention can take a devastating toll on individuals, families and communities. That’s why we need to make sure prevention efforts get to the people and places that need them most.
As I’ve traveled the country talking with communities about the National Prevention Strategy, I’ve been impressed with how communities are coming together to overcome health, safety and environmental challenges through putting prevention to work. We can only succeed in creating healthy communities when air and water are clean and safe; when housing is safe; and when neighborhoods are sustainable, especially in areas that face disproportionate health burdens.
Partnerships are critical to success. Many federal efforts reflect the value of collaborative efforts, like the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and Green Ribbon Schools. I have also seen prevention-focused partnerships at work on the local level, including Fighting D in the D and Maryland Health Enterprise Zones. These examples are only a small sample of the work going on around the country.
In order for communities to be healthy and environments clean and safe, we need to continue to uplift prevention as the greatest opportunity to improve the health of America’s families, now and for decades to come.
About the Author: Regina M. Benjamin, MD, MBA is the 18th United States Surgeon General. As America’s Doctor, she provides the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation. Dr. Benjamin also oversees the operational command of 6,500 uniformed public health officers who serve in locations around the world to promote and protect the health of the American People.