National Public Health Week is celebrated by presidential proclamation and will be held this year from April 1-7. The website www.nphw.org has all the information needed to participate or view the events.
Advocacy is a big part of NPHW. The first thought that generally comes to mind when the word advocacy is mentioned is someone writing letters to their legislators about important health policies or a health-related cause. That certainly is part of it; however, being an advocate can include more than that. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an advocate as: "1) one that pleads the cause of another; specifically one that pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court; 2) one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal; and 3) one that supports or promotes the interests of another."
At the 2012 American Public Health Association (APHA) Midyear Meeting, those generic definitions were applied to public health advocacy. Dr. Abby Levine, legal director of advocacy programs with Alliance for Justice, broadly defined public health advocacy as patient education and public awareness of health issues, along with talking with legislators.1 Considering this definition, there are opportunities for advocacy every day. It could include advising a patient about the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables with each meal, teaching students about the risk factors of osteoporosis, or working with neighbors and community leaders to build a playground for the neighborhood children.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) is the primary organization for public health advocacy. It works continually with policy- and decision-makers to address public health issues and influence policy. APHA also encourages and supports health care providers and public health workers to advocate for the health of their patients, students, neighbors and their overall communities throughout the year. However, APHA designates the first full week of April as National Public Health Week (NPHW). This week is specifically set aside to educate and raise awareness of public health issues.
Each year, NPHW selects a theme to focus the educational and awareness activities. This year's theme is "Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money," which focuses on the return on investment received with public health and prevention.
NPHW activities offer individuals opportunities to participate in advocacy within their own communities. The NPHW website provides a wealth of information about activities and events planned for the week, as well as suggestions regarding how you can incorporate them into your community or classroom. Some of the NPHW-hosted events include Twitter chats and in-person presentations by APHA executives. Check the website for the specific times and places.
Health care providers, instructors and students can also use the daily themes to develop activities or simply start a conversation on public health issues. Below are some suggestions for chiropractic-related topics associated with the daily themes.
- Monday, April 1: Ensuring a Safe, Healthy Home for Your Family – This is an opportunity to talk about fall prevention for the elderly or how to prevent illness in your home; and how chiropractic care can assist with both.
- Tuesday, April 2: Providing a Safe Environment for Children at School – Give a presentation or provide materials to a local school about the impact of backpacks on spinal health.
- Wednesday, April 3: Creating a Healthy Workplace – Musculoskeletal injuries can have a large impact on the workplace. Discuss with your patients proper lifting techniques and other ways to prevent injury.
- Thursday, April 4: Protecting You While You're on the Move – Discuss with community leaders the health benefits of walking for back pain, and the need to provide safe walkways and trails to promote that activity.
- Friday, April 5: Empowering a Healthy Community – Start conversations with local officials or other practitioners about how doctors of chiropractors fit within the health care community and the community's overall health.
The NPHW website also provides support for public health-related activities. Individuals may download specific Toolkits, which provide materials to assist in planning events and developing media pieces to promote them.
Referring back to Dr. Levine's definition of public health advocacy, up to this point the focus has been on patient education and public awareness activities. For those individuals who want to advocate for public health by contacting state or national legislators during this week or any other time, the NPHW and the APHA websites provide much information and materials. An Advocacy Toolkit is available on the NPHW website. It includes suggestions on tips and tools for getting involved, as well as sample letters for making appointments with legislators and questions to ask in a public forum. The APHA website (www.apha.org) posts updates on public health issues and activities in which the public and its members can participate. For members, APHA will set up meetings for individuals to visit their representatives on Capitol Hill.
Anyone interested in public health advocacy in any form should consider becoming a member of the APHA. An APHA membership allows individuals the opportunity to stay abreast with the latest public health news and research, to have a voice in public health issues and have access to all the advocacy materials and opportunities. Become a member of the Chiropractic Health Care section of APHA to work with other chiropractic professional on these important issues.
- Levine A, Wier L, Holubowich E. Successful Advocacy: The How, What and Where. 2012 APHA Midyear Meeting: The New Public Health: Rewiring for the Future. Charlotte, N.C., June 26-28, 2012.
Lori Byrd is the APHA-CHC section chair and a program coordinator at the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research. She can be contacted at