Public Health Is Inherently Political

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS

fte-jmAs I learned while teaching my first undergraduate public health course in 2004, public health is inherently political. In attempting to present the material in an apolitical manner, I failed miserably, (as indicated by my teaching evaluations). Contributing to my failure was undoubtedly the raging presidential election, my red state address, and my relatively poor teaching ability (it was my first lecture course). In the end, by shying away from the political nature of the profession, the politically relevant points in my lectures came off more as personal opinions and less as statements of fact or points of discussion. In the intervening years I would learn to present the material in a more straightforward manner: non-partisan, but based in the reality that who we elect affects public health policy, practice, and research a great deal. This election year is no different.

The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice takes no official position on contests for public office. It is not the mission of our editorial team to weigh the positions of candidates for office, nor would we presume to understand the needs of local jurisdictions that may influence an individual’s preference for a particular candidate. However, as Edward Hunter of the de Beaumont Foundation eloquently states in “Politics and Public Health—Engaging the Third Rail,”  “Public health officials and advocates need to recognize the role of political and ideological factors in public policy decisions, and adapt advocacy strategies so that these factors are leveraged or neutralized.” As such, all Americans, especially those working in public health, must be informed voters who vote consistent with their needs and values. To that end, the Journal has published a considerable number of articles relevant to the issues of the day. For example, Kenneth De Ville provided a thoughtful analysis of the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which proved prophetic. Since that time, JPHMP authors have contributed a number of insightful pieces on the implications and application of the tenets of the ACA (listed below). I myself ventured a word of caution on potential ideological reactions to soda taxes. Shiriki Kumanyika presented the opportunities offered by a public health focus on health equity to eliminate disparities. Recently, Leana Wen and Kathleen Goodwin advanced the position that violence is a public health issue. It should be clear to anyone reading that their vote, possibly more than anything else, can shape the future of public health in America, for better or for worse.

In summary, it is my sincere hope that you will carefully examine the positions of the individuals on your local ballot, in addition to those of the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, and weigh them against research, experience, and expert opinion on what works and what does not work for the promotion of a healthy population. As governance encompasses many issues, including but not limited to public health, public health will not be the only factor you will consider when choosing leaders. However, considering that health is a foundational human need, I hope that public health will factor into the decision making process, as a public health practitioner, scientist, and/or policy maker, but most importantly, as a citizen.

For further reading, consider these related articles from the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice*:

*Articles may require a subscription to JPHMP or purchase.

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]

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