Before I delve into other public health musings, I thought I’d introduce a few public health success stories to help further illustrate what public health is all about.
- Found that filth was both a cause of disease and a vehicle of transmission.
- Sanitation forever altered the way society thought about health; instead of seeing illness as an indicator of poor moral or spiritual conditions, we began to understand some illnesses were a result of poor environmental conditions.
- Public health emphasized the need to change the environment as well as individual behavior.
Success Story #2: Injury Control Examples
(from the book “While We Were Sleeping” by David Hemenway)
- Tap Water Burns
- 1970s, water heaters factory-preset at 140-150 degrees. When Seattle altered to 122 degrees, admission rates for children for tap water scalds fell dramatically.
- *Impact of passive safety measures/regulation
- Seat Belt Use
- 1984: US Secretary of Transportation ruled that air bags would not be required in vehicles if >2/3 population resided in states with mandatory seat belt laws – auto industry began massive lobbying campaign to instate mandatory seat belt laws, which they had previously been adamantly opposed to (and we went from 0 to 42 states having mandatory seat belt laws).
- *Given right incentive, industry can push for safety itself
- Military Helicopter Fires
- 10-year program to develop improved crash-resistant fuel tanks and self-sealing breakaway valves and to ensure fuel cells had accessories and components that would not tear the cell led to dramatic decrease in military helicopter fires.
- *Engineering can have huge public health impact
Success Story #3: Do you want to be the DD?
(The Harvard Alcohol Project)
- New social concept rapidly (and purposefully, by public health professionals) diffused through American society via mass media, catalyzing a fundamental shift in social norms.
- TV writers agreed to insert references into scripts of top-rated TV programs, such as “Cheers,” “L.A. Law,” and “The Cosby Show”.
- Four-year decline of 24%, compared to 0% change in the three years just prior to the Campaign. By 1994, annual fatalities reached a low of 16,580 (a six-year decline of 30%), before leveling off.