The Power of Prevention Within Our Communities

Crossposted from Environmental Justice in Action

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 Actand 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.

Habitat for Humanity Worksite in Washington, DC

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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.