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National Public Health Week: Whose Job Is a Healthy Community?

And, the answer is: everyone’s. This week’s theme nationwide has been Return On Investment – getting the most of every dollar spent on your health and well-being.

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Many of those dollars support public health agencies through local, municipal and state government. They’re the crucible for progress toward prevention over remedies.

The Ocean County Health Department maintains a hectic year-round schedule of vaccination clinics, topical seminars, fitness workshops, disease screenings and open house events that empower as well as inform. The department’s web page catalogues them week by week.

Health Knowledge Is Health Power

“Resilient, well-supported health systems are critical to our nation’s future,” says public information officer Leslie Terjesen as she points out behavioral changes contributing to general well-being. Coverning sneezes, she remarks, once was a chore. But after waves of flu scares and measles outbreaks in the past several years, it’s a habit for many of us.

It also extends to the halls of state and federal lawmakers. “We’re seeing a dramatic reduction in tobacco use,” says Leslie. “We have clean indoor-air laws.” Add to that laws that cover food, job, school, fire and car safety, anti-intimidation, and many more.

Health officials in the Toms River headquarters, she says, pore over each clinic and event to find ways to extend their reach. The department’s outposts in Lakewood and Manahawkin are increasing their profiles as health hubs, and ongoing partnerships with federally-funded providers such as Ocean Health Initiatives open more avenues for care.

But what about prevention? A good maintenance plan trumps a good repair plan every time. Leslie says that’s a constant point of research. “We’re looking to prevent chronic diseases,” she says, inculcating good hygiene from school-age children on up. “We want to help people avoid preventable things such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes. We’re looking into evidence-based programs for our communities.”

Start Small, Go Large

Health maintenance and sensible hygiene begins at home and carries into the common areas we all inhabit. Leslie underscores the need for parents and guardians to lead the way.

“We have to be sure that children are immunized,” she says, pointing out the need for flu, pneumonia, T-DAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) and rubella protection. Folks over 40 enter the range for regular annual prostate, colo-rectal and breast cancer screenings. Over 60? Shingles vaccinations should be on the radar. Blood pressure, cholesterol and heart rate checks are valuable at any age.

Beyond that, there are a wealth of ways to take active roles in community health that also benefit our economy. “Look up the national physical activity guidelines for Americans, to see if you’re getting enough exercise,” she suggests. “Encourage your family and friends to do the same.”

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It even extends to your nourishment. “You want to support farmers’ markets,” Leslie continues, “and other access points to fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s good for your health, and certainly good for our local economy.” Additionally, she observes, they’re open-air venues, a chance to spend time outside in warm weather and meet the people who grow what winds up on your table.

Active community involvement contributes to public health. “If you have a neighborhood watch program, join it,” says Leslie. “Take part in national health observances…National HIV Testing Day, National Youth Violence Prevention Week, National Minority Health Month,” just to name a few.

Once you’ve considered what’s needed for a healthy community, speak up. “Write a letter to the editor,” says Leslie. “Ask restaurants to provide nutrition information on their menus. A lot of restaurants now have heart-healthy menus. If you see someone smoking close to the door of an establishment, feel free to ask the manager to ask them to smoke further away or to create smoke-free property.”

But don’t stop there. Take your concerns to the people you elect to tend to them, in your municipal building. “You have the right to go to your town council meetings to offer your opinions, as you do with school boards,” says Leslie.

See what’s on the Ocean County Health Department’s upcoming schedule at its web page.

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