April Speakers Focus on Public Health

The first week of April is National Public Health Week, and April is Public Health month for Ithaca Rotary programming. Gen Meredith kicked it off with a presentation — “Building the Healthiest Generation in One Generation” — that spoke directly to some of Rotary’s core values: a call to promote, protect, and work toward optimum health for all people.

Currently the Associate Director of Cornell’s brand new Masters of Public Health Program, for a dozen years before coming to Cornell Gen Meredith worked globally to help build capacity of the public health workforce, leading international development projects in Africa, the Caribbean, and local and state public health programs in the U.S. The MPH program she helped design for Cornell focuses on engaged learning, applied practice, and community-centered courses and community-based action.

Public health is defined by the CDC Foundation as the “science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through detection and control of infectious disease, research for disease and injury prevention, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.” An initiative of the American Public Health Association has been through Nation Public Health Week to recognize a variety of themes aimed at improving the health of our nation and the world. This year’s theme is, “Healthy Nation 2030: Changing our Future Together.”

Sixty percent of our health outcomes are determined by our social environment and behavioral factors, so-called Social Determinants of Health, such as childhood experiences, housing, education, social support, family environment, employment, community, and access to health care. Public health measures work to unite communities to engage in collective change by tackling the causes of poor health and disease risk among individuals and within communities. Working collaboratively to build healthier communities builds a healthier nation.

There is a new era in public health very similar to Rotary’s mission statement: “Where neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem solvers” share ideas, join leaders, and “take action to create lasting change.” At the start of her presentation, Gen asked for a show of hands by those who considered their work to be in public health. She asked again at the end of her talk, and the scattering of hand at the beginning had grown considerably by the end. Download a PDF of Gen’s slides here.