What do Public Health professionals do?

My interest in public health generally centres around the contribution that healthy food can make to the health of the population. It is important for us all to have access to good food or know how to make best use of the resources we have to maximise our intake of good food (full of nutrients).

However, I appreciate that the public health (PH) arena encompasses so much more than discussions about the food we eat, which makes the task of improving the health of the population a complex one.

Our health is influenced by income, gender, ethnic group, relationships with family and friends, and our environment. PH researchers look at the way people live and how healthy they are by gathering information about people and places and using the collected data to learn what might help us to live healthier, happier lives.

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PH researchers also investigate the factors that may help people to live their lives free from the burden of ill health. There are a number of inter-linked relationships between how and where people live and their health – for example, there is a gap between the health of rich people and poor people. PH researchers try to identify these factors and possible solutions.

PH professionals might design and test ways to improve health and reduce inequality, then share their work with politicians, policy makers and health professionals to try to influence health policy and practice. Then PH researchers might investigate various programmes and policies to see if they are actually improving public health. For example, some community programmes might be developed to help people get fit, lose weight, stop smoking, or enjoy more of life. We all want to feel better and might want to participate, but these programmes must be assessed to determine if they are effective and achieve the desired results.

Media reports can influence what people understand about health issues. PH professionals look at how people use information provided by the media to make decisions about issues such as vaccinations and flu.

The relationships people have, who they communicate with and how they communicate can all have important effects on their health. PH professionals talk to people about their lifestyles to learn how to develop ways to improve their emotional well-being and physical health.

Where we live can affect our health. Green-space, like parks, can be important – for example, as a healthy environment for children. Where we live can influence when we die. People from the poorest communities experience more ill-health and die at a younger age than those who live in the wealthiest parts of towns and cities. PH professionals work to understand the patterns of, and reasons for, such inequalities.

Will the children of today experience more or less health inequality as they get older? The shape of a child’s life and their health can be influenced by social factors such as family relationships, poverty, peers, schools and the media. PH researchers look for ways to help people live full and healthy lives, wherever they live.  

Social circumstances, including where people live and what they do, can influence how successfully a person ages and can influence a person’s health and well-being in older age. Most people have little control over the many things that create health inequalities throughout their lives, like the conditions they live in or whether there are sports facilities nearby. Inequalities are difficult to change at an individual level. PH researchers work with various stakeholders to identify the most effective ways to solve health problems at every stage of life.

The different settings and organisations that we are part of, including where we live, work and interact, can affect our health – from schools to workplaces, hospitals and prisons – public health professionals examine what impact these have on how people behave, their health and their well-being.

Information from http://www.imagesofpublichealth.co.uk

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Good Food ~ Good Health: a reminder

Good Food~Good Health aims to promote good food as a route to good health and empower people to make good choices about food through nutrition education.

Nutrition education helps us to take responsibility for the choices we make about food everyday. When we make conscious, deliberate, thoughtful choices, mindful of the impact of those choices on not only our own health but the health of the people around us and the planet we live on we can make a difference.

Good food may take more effort, more time and more energy than we think we have available but each choice, each small change, each moment can add up to something bigger.

Take a small step every day. Choose good food for good health.

Inspired by Jen Gale at http://www.asustainablelife.co.uk

Simplifying my diet

Television channels continue to show a range of programmes that basically encourage us to be part-time chefs. Apparently, we can all do it if we try just a little bit more.

These programmes do not interest me. ‘Cooking’ involves too many ingredients, too much equipment, can be expensive and time-consuming. While I like the idea of making meals from scratch, I have made enough lasagne and carrot cake to know that I do not find cooking fun or relaxing.

As part of an effort to simplify my life I have decided to minimise the amount of time spent preparing food, including time spent thinking about meals, shopping and cooking. While I want to eat well, I do not want to spend a lot of time and money on everyday meals.

After trying some ready-to-eat meals I have found a few that I like in terms of taste and convenience, but their nutritional value can be questionable and their calorie content can be excessive.

I now stick to simple, everyday foods that are easy to prepare, are relatively inexpensive and allow me to meet my nutrient requirements.

Breakfast – overnight oats made with fruit juice, dairy-free yoghurt, banana
Lunch – two slices of wholemeal bread with some type of protein (such as homous, boiled eggs, baked beans, tinned sardines), fruit juice
Dinner – rice and beans/lentils with added veg (like frozen peas, grated courgette) or vegetable soup with added rice/pasta – throw in uncooked rice/pasta because it cooks as the soup is being heated (add a little extra water if using soup to cook the rice/pasta)
Snacks – milk, fruit, herbal tea

Using the nutritional information found on the food packets (eg: the nutritional panel on the side of my packet of oats) I have determined that I am meeting my protein and fibre needs, while not exceeding my calorie requirements. To meet my vitamin and mineral needs I must remember to eat a good variety of fruit and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, tinned or dried.

While I am not vegetarian, I eat mostly vegetarian meals for health, cost and sustainability reasons. I have a kitchen cupboard stocked with tinned foods and dry foods, like oats and lentils, which make up the basis of most of my meals. The fridge contains milk, juice, fresh fruit and vegetables and frozen vegetables.

My food choices give me enough variety that I do not feel like I am eating the same thing over-and-over. I have chosen foods that I like so I still enjoy my simple meals. I occasionally browse the supermarket shelves for something new or different. When I eat out at a restaurant or café I choose something that I do not cook at home, like seafood or dessert.

Changing my diet has taken some effort in regards to considering the best way to meet my nutritional needs with simple meals. I do not aspire to cook like a TV chef. I need healthy meals that do not take much time or effort, so that I can concentrate on other pursuits (that I enjoy). A ‘back-to-basics’ approach to food is working for me.

©SD Wheelock