Public Health Op-Ed: Making a Lasting Impact

Public Health; Students

As I near the culmination of my education with a graduate degree in public health, I have found myself reflecting and reminiscing on the over 20 years I have been in school. My best friends, my most cherished memories, my most defining experiences – all have occurred while I was in school. I am who I am today and I have made the choices I have made not only because of what I have learned from coursework and my mentors but also from the environment in which these experiences took place. These lessons and experiences, both positive and negative, have built upon each other through my lifetime and shaped who I am.

I was/am privileged to have attended schools in which healthy foods and physical activity were encouraged and an integral part of our day. Yes, there were extended periods of sitting and looking at screens but I learned to be mindful of these things and recognize the importance of just standing up for even a few minutes.

I’m sure you’re wondering why is this even worth writing about? I read article after article discussing the obesity epidemic, the latest diet craze, or the infamous how to lose 10 pounds in a week. What we are missing is that to have a lasting effect on our health, a behavior change has to occur and be sustained. Keeping motivation is difficult to do, so how do we do this? I think we will see positive health outcomes by transforming not only the physical structures of our environment that impact health such as bike paths, playgrounds, or sidewalks, but also the culture of it like allowing for flexible schedules so that you can go to the gym during the work day or requiring physical education and health classes in all public schools. I also recognize that saying these things is much easier than accomplishing them, but that is where I think if we build on our previous successes like the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and tackling these large issues comprehensively while creating trusting relationships with key stakeholders, we will experience healthy outcomes. Our peers and environments inevitably shape our perspectives and choices, so it is important, I think, to create a place where the healthy option is the default.

Similar to my own personal growth, successes in health policy and programming are cumulative. To move forward and ensure good health and well-being for all people, we must try to build on what has been successful.

If there is anything that I can share that I’ve learned and has stuck with me over the years, it is to have a voice and have it be heard. Reach out to your peers, teachers, school administration, bosses, coworkers, or anyone who is willing to listen, and become a champion in your community that encourages healthy living for all.  

By: Salma Abadin