The Public's Health: When We Talk About Public Health | Public Health Post

According to a new study, there was little discussion by candidates Trump and Clinton of “public health issues” during the 2016 Presidential campaign. 
Combing the texts of major campaign speeches, interviews, and advertisements made by candidates Trump and Clinton for keywords, the authors of this study conclude, “the two candidates did not communicate the major concerns of the public health field.” They bemoan that general references to “health” accounted for less than 1% of the words used by these candidates.
Where it gets interesting is what the authors of the study consider to be “health topics.” The study focused on six “public health issues”: wellness and diet, disease prevention, substance abuse, workplace standards, and vaccinations.  
We do not disagree that these are “public health issues.” We suggest, however, that it would be a shame if this short list is what constitutes our political discourse on the issues of public health.
The papers that we summarize each week in the Noteworthy section of this newsletter emerge from a curated catalog of twelve topics—housing, health gaps, immigration, aging, mental health and substance use, military medicine, the environment, criminal justice, food policy, health technology, disability/injury, and health care delivery. We created this list because we think that these areas capture the forces that both shape health and create the state of health that matters to the public’s health today.
We would bet that politicians and the public already spend more than 1% of their words touching on some aspect of these twelve topics. For instance, immigration and military issues dominate popular attention at the moment. But the public health implications of these issues are rarely addressed. For example, we talk about putting undocumented immigrants in detention centers, but what happens when we do not screen for and treat tuberculosis among these immigrants? We talk military budgets, but we don’t talk about the costs of post-traumatic stress disorder (only one of the many hidden health costs of war) to the single-payer insurance system that our military uses.
If there is a unifying idea left in our divided America it is that we all want to be healthier. The public’s health affects everyone. We all share in the benefits of a healthier populace. The public’s health should drive our policies and our political discourse. Every budget, every piece of policy, could be written with a public health implication in mind, if we had the political will.

Michael Stein & Sandro Galea