2016 National Public Health Week – C.Boettler, OPHA President
April 4th begins National Public Health Week and this year’s theme is “Healthiest Nation 2030”.To reach this lofty goal we definitely have our work cut out for us!
As a public health professional it is my strong belief that all policy and legislation impacts health. Public health addresses healthat the population level rather than the individual level, and it is at thepopulation level where I think it is easiest to understand the impacts of policy and legislative decision making. A timely and important example of this is the current lack of strong policy in Ohio addressing climate change and its resultant impact on the healthof Ohioans.
I recently came across a statement from the British medical journal The Lancet that stated that climatechange is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and its impacts will be felt around the world. To me this means whether and how we address climate change will determine not only the quality of our lives, but the actual quantity of our lives as measured in life expectancy.
One of the results of climate change is increased air pollution. Increased air pollution affects our respiratory health and especially impacts those with asthma and other lung diseases, as well as those with heart disease. According to the American Lung Association 160 Ohioans die each year from polluted air, more than 220,000 Ohio children live with asthma, more than 1 million Ohio adults have been told theyhave asthma, and there are more than 170,000 asthma-related emergency room visits per year in Ohio.
The good news for Ohio is that we can collectively choose to impact climate change at the policy/legislative level by how we choose to power our energy infrastructure. Currently the vast majority of our electricity is produced by coal burning power plants that emit carbon, which contributes to increased air pollution, which contributes to increased respiratory health issues. We often hear that it is just too expensive to move away from coal because it is such a“cheap” form of energy, and the cleaner alternatives are just too expensive. However, if we were to add up all the costs involved in treating all of the Ohioans with asthma including ER visits, hospitalizations and medications, and the costs of lost productivity due to missed work and school days, I would venture to say that the cost equation would add up very differently. But these costs are not usually considered as part of the energy equation.
I believe Albert Einstein is credited with saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing overand over again and expecting a different result. Continuing to rely on coal and other carbon emitting fossil fuels and expecting that it won’t continue to impact our climate and increase air pollution seems to fit this definition. The time is now to continue to move to clean energy sources in a committed way – in fact, choosing clean power is the only sane choice and our state’s, our nation’s and our planet’s health depends upon it.
Claire Boettler, MPH, RN