Community prevention is the essence of local control. It's about helping neighborhoods to work together with local businesses, community groups and local health departments to figure out the best ways to build health where they live--whether that's putting more fruits and vegetables on a child's school lunch plate, or making the local park safer so a mom doesn't have to put her kid in front of the tv. Community prevention is about supporting decision making, and health. at a very local level.
That's why I was so surprised last week to hear one of our most influential senators, Tom Coburn, who is not only a powerful political leader but a medical doctor as well, say he's going after $630 million from the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. He called it a 'slush fund' and yet at the same time said that public health officials aren't granted enough leeway to allocate the funds as they see fit.
When Coburn became a doctor and promised to uphold the Hippocratic oath, he swore to "prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure." He should know that effective health care should emphasize keeping people healthy in the first place and that most public health officials across the country see prevention funding as desperately needed and designed to maintain people's health. And as a political leader he should understand that good health is good business.
That's exactly what's happening all across the country: communities are using the kind of money he's targeting to take control and take action, deciding for themselves just how to bring down the barriers to health where they live:
These communities are choosing smart strategies that strengthen neighborhoods, promote health and improve the economy--and healthier kids means less money spent on health care down the road. The $630 million Coburn is after is a drop in the bucket compared to the $168 billion that chronic disease costs us every year. Every dime invested in community prevention pays off--the American Journal of Public Health will publish a study next month that shows that reducing the prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure by just 5 percent would save the nation about $9 billion a year in the near term, and $24.7 billion a year in the medium term.
Given that the US life expectancy just dropped for the first time in twenty-five years, we haven't a moment to lose. And that's why we're standing strong on prevention. We want to make sure families across the country have the right--and the resources--to decide for themselves how to keep their kids and their communities healthy, thriving and harm free.
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