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For the Public Health by Charles Hardy
Think about health of a community
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    For many of us, the word “health” is an individual concept: How do I feel today? If I don’t feel well, I take my temperature and call my doctor, and he sees me or calls in a prescription.
    As the global population increases and our world becomes smaller, we can no longer afford to think of “health” as an individual concept. We live in an interdependent world where our actions affect the people around us, and this is especially true in matters related to health. The concept of “public health” recognizes that we are all in this world together, and that everything we do related to medicine, the environment, disease, health policy, and social behavior will affect not just us, but the people around us. Think about just a few items that demonstrate the importance of public health:
    Your children—and their playmates—have had required immunizations to protect them from diseases that used to be deadly.
    In the car, you buckle yourself and your children into your seat. Thanks to public health education, it’s a habit now. That habit has reduced the number of automobile-related deaths in the U.S.
    Driving to work, a sign outside the medical center reminds you that tomorrow your community will offer free screenings for cancer and diabetes.
    You stopped at a fast-food place to get an egg sandwich this morning, assured that the public health department has inspected the facility and that your food is safe.
    You only got one egg sandwich, because public health messages have reminded you to watch your fat intake, because your cholesterol levels are high and resulting obesity could cause diabetes or heart problems.
    As a result of public health education, your workplace opts to go smoke free, reducing the dangers caused by smoking and second-hand smoke.
    After work you take a walk, because you’ve heard about the benefits of aerobic exercise. Walking along a nearby river, you notice fish swimming in clear water where not too long ago the water was cloudy and polluted. Public health is improved when the environment is protected.
    As you can see, public health covers a lot of ground: chronic and infectious diseases, environmental health education, community health education, biostatistics, and health services management. With lots of rural communities, South Georgia is a great laboratory for studying and improving public health.
    This “applied definition” just begins to address the ways public health affects your life and the lives of those around you. For yourself, your family, and your community, I encourage you to learn more about public health issues and to be proactive in encouraging public health education and research.  

Charles Hardy, Ph.D., is Dean of the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University.
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