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The Power of Prevention Within Our Communities

2013 July 15

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.

Surgeon General’s Walk with students for Munger School in Detroit, MI

Surgeon General’s Walk with students for Munger School in Detroit, MI

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.

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Habitat for Humanity Worksite in Washington, DC

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Liam permalink
    July 15, 2013

    Dr. Benjamin,

    Thank you for your service to our country and for you great work today and over the years. Thank you also, for highlighting the fact that communities with environmental justice concerns are connected to “Public Health” issues. I appreciate you highlighting examples of partnerships that are working to address the disproportionate health burdens in overburdened communities. I can think of know better place for your message to be shared than on the EJ in Action Blog it has helped me to learn a great deal about environmenal justice and how many accross the country are working in partnerships to address the impacts that are happening in many low-income and communities of color. We are all connected and your work and others is helping to stregthen our country as a whole.

    Liam

  2. Robert permalink
    July 16, 2013

    As a Physician I agree with everything that the Surgeon General has said in this blog. Over the years I have seen the impacts that pollution can have on my patients. Prevention is definitely the key to getting the country healthier and making the link to the environment is a great first step. Let’s all work to create healthier communities for all of our citizens.

    Dr. Regan

  3. Devorah permalink
    July 16, 2013

    Thank you for sharing the information on the National Prevention Strategy (NPS), it’s great to hear about some of the partnerships that are working to improve conditions in communities and that you see the need to include EJ stakeholders in the conversation. What is the best way to get involved with the NPS?

  4. Jane permalink
    July 16, 2013

    Keep up the great work Dr. Benjamin. We all deserve to have a healthy environment.

  5. Trina permalink
    July 17, 2013

    My hope, my wish and my prayer is that the government will consider to acknowledge the debilitating affect that toxic mold has on susceptible people and visit the FB communities of the individuals and families dehumanized by an illness that their own government ignores. These warriors come together in support because of the denial of their condition, not by their mold doctors and specialists, but by government agencies that are unaware that you can take the person out of the mold, but you can’t always take the mold out of the person. After the horrific last flooding of Sandy, it is time to step up and listen to these communities and people that are suffering. Some with such ravaged immune systems that they sleep in tents because their exposure left them unable to tolerate any indoor environments.
    Please help, just listen.
    I know, because I was one.
    Thank you.

  6. Ms. Scott permalink
    July 22, 2013

    I too pray that someone takes the necessary steps to help those who has/ have enlisted to fight for
    OUR country that has been exposed to mold anytime during their enlistment. This can be a life changing and just like the blogger stated, you can’t always take the mold out of the person. My daughter experienced this and has not been the same since. I pray that you take the initiative to start with our Airmen’s base.

    It’s truly sad when you have made a choice to help defend your country and your dreams are shattered because of unhealthy living conditions. If you can take the necessary steps to ensure that no one else encounters this, it would make a world of difference. Thanks in advance

  7. Terrelle Ballard Mitchell permalink
    July 29, 2013

    To my long time friend from your AMA-RPS days,

    Just my perfect timing; I look you up on my recent visit to DC, to find out it was your last day on the job!

    Wish you were staying on for the remainder of the President’s term. I’m sure whatever is next, you will again be a trail blazer!

    Terrelle Ballard

  8. Timothy Jakes permalink
    August 19, 2013

    I had not heard of the “National Prevention Strategy” until I read about it on your blog. I think it is a great idea, it would be nice to hear from a community perspective on how they are benefiting from it. Thank you for the information.

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