When you think about cataclysmic events that cause widespread human devastation, what comes to mind?
Do you think of tsunamis, hurricanes or other natural disasters? What about the flu?
Adam London, Administrative Health Officer for the Kent County Health Department, said that people tend to remember the big, showy episodes over the more quiet epidemics that historically have caused great harm to public health.
“As a whole, society forgets the impact that illness can have,” he said.
London was speaking about population health at the Health Forum of West Michigan, a monthly morning meeting sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The purpose of the forum is to offer a venue for open discussion on health topics pertinent to the well-being of the community.
From influenza in 1918, cholera in 1832 and even a typhoid outbreak in the 1880s in West Michigan, London said advances in public health have made acute illnesses less of a concern than chronic conditions such as heart disease and obesity. In 1900, the number one cause of death was influenza, followed by tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. In 2010, heart disease was the number one killer, followed by cancer and chronic airways disease.
“Our causes of death have changed largely due to public health measures,” London said.
Although advances in sanitation, access to clean water, better nutrition and vaccinations have done much to stop the spread of epidemics, London said public health officials can’t let their guard down. It takes collaboration and communication between varying regional, state and federal public health agencies to ensure the future health of citizens, as well as participation by those citizens in taking control of their own health.
“Everyone has a role to play in population health,” he said.
If you’re interested in future Health Forum of West Michigan events, visit their website to register. All events are free and open to the public.
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- 5 Essential Ingredients for a Healthy Diet
Photo credit: NIAID