Traveling Abroad with Public Health on My Mind | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
Melissa Franco
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Traveling Abroad with Public Health on My Mind

​As my first semester ended, I was ready for a much needed break. With only the necessities and a couple friends, I began backpacking through Europe. Not only was I amazed by the art culture, the people, and the food, but I saw myself thinking about public health everywhere I went. As I was waiting for the train in Madrid, a virtual billboard with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) poster flashed before my eyes.

Sustainable Development Goals PosterI had to double take on this image before I began to smile. I have never seen the Sustainable Development Goals poster on a public billboard besides a class handout or lecture slide. I found it remarkable that Spain takes advantage of the commute culture to inform its commuters of the Sustainable Development Goals and do their part to reach these 17 Global Goals by 2030.

Throughout the fall semester, as MPH students we review and evaluate past interventions and cases of health disparities in order to learn from past successes and failures in public health. One of the main topic that comes up though courses is smoking cessation. California is known to have one of the strictest tobacco regulations in the US with restrictions of smoking in public areas, tobacco taxes, and use of morbid commercials and billboards. 

Joe Chemo PosterTake a look at Joe Chemo, pretty depressing.  Similarly, Australia has even more stringent regulation on the tobacco industry. On average, a pack of cigarettes in Australia can cost about $20 and expected to cost $40 by 2020. This is outrageously high compared to other countries. In efforts to reduce smoking, the cigarette labeling are different from those typically used in the US. Instead of featuring the red Marlboro label or Joe the Camel, the healthy Joe, they feature blacken lungs, rotten teeth, and hollow throats. Not a pleasant image.  In the fall semester, we talked about these powerful intervention methods for smoking cession and their benefits on improving health. So when I was walking into convenience stores throughout my travels, it was admirable to see first-hand what strategies other countries are using to reduce smoking rates. It was reassuring to see that we are all working together, in different ways, to reduce smoking rates and improve the general health of individuals.

Other impactful memories: the commuter culture. Public transportation was easily accessible, cheaper, and better than taking a taxi! On average, we were walking 12 miles a day and getting more than our recommended dose of exercise. Instead of finding time to work out in my day, it was incorporated into my daily routine! I mean, how nice is that.  Furthermore, I felt that our consumption of sugar and food was greatly reduced due to smaller portion sizes and higher cost of sugary drinks. It was cheaper to buy a bottle of water than a soda or juice! Think about how the commuter culture and the reduce consumption of food and sugar greatly impacts the general health of the individual? No wonder Europeans tend to be healthier than Americans.

Seeing how other countries combat health disparities and improve the health of their populations can be used as a reference point in the US. Since each country and culture is different, direct interventions or practices that work in one area of the world, might not work in another. In this case, the best we can do is to work together and adapt intervention and prevention methods to the population were are trying help. Lastly, since in public health we love transdisciplinary work, we need to be open to work with other disciplines with different points of views and ideas to reach the targets we have set for ourselves.