Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Competing priorities

Public health has always faced the challenge of competing priorities. Is a vaccination campaign more important than a healthy lifestyle campaign? Should the focus be reducing cancer rates or improving infant mortality? There are thousands of possibilities.

This year, the obvious challenge is that H1N1 is taking over the world. According to some estimates, 90,000 may die of H1N1 this season. While CDC doesn't like that estimate, the media has caught hold of it and hyped it up. Another estimate says that 12-24% of the population could get H1N1, up from 6-8% this spring. Whatever the situation ends up being, it's definitely getting people's attention.

This perhaps over-hyped attention is taking the focus away from just about every other public health issue going on right now. For example, CDC just announced that life expectancy hit an all-time high of 77.9 in 2007. $26 million will be spent on opening new health centers across the country. And sales of tobacco to underage youth fell to a new low. This article discusses how preparations for influenza have delayed an obesity initiative at a Boston area school.

While H1N1 may indeed turn out to be quite dangerous, and we need to adequately prepare for the next wave of the pandemic, we also need to keep in mind other public health issues affecting people every day. Obesity initiatives, safety measures, food safety, and other issues need to be at the front of our minds too. Because after the H1N1 scare dies down, our children will still be overweight, our environments not safe enough, and our food not secure.

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