Make a Public Health Resolution

by Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

The Dean’s Perspective focuses on issues pertinent to the relationship between academic public health and the practice community.

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB

One of the benefits of being in academia is the cycle of beginnings and endings. As the fall semester draws to a close, we know that we will be turning in final grades, graduating students, and heading off to winter break. This is also the time of year to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. John Norcross, who got his PhD in psychology at Rhode Island a few years before I did, has been studying the process of New Year’s resolutions for over two decades. He has found that only about 8% of people are successful in keeping their resolutions. One of the reasons behind this is that they usually involve complex behavioral change like quitting smoking, losing weight, or sticking to a budget. While these are worthwhile goals, I would like to encourage everyone to try something different this year and make a Public Health Resolution.

These resolutions can take many forms. We all know that public health is under-recognized and under-appreciated. Why not try talking to someone every week about why public health is important, what it is, and how it makes a difference to society? One of the joys of my job as dean is traveling around the great state of Texas and talking about these issues. You never know what issue is going to connect with someone. It may be encouraging someone to get a flu shot, helping a college student choose public health as a major, or motivating someone to empty standing water on his property. Public health touches every one of us, and the more people are aware of what it is, the more we can influence change.

You might also want to make this the year of modeling healthy behavior. Is this the year to start walking to meetings, bringing fruit to work instead of doughnuts, or bringing plenty of sunscreen to share during outdoor events? These small changes can have subtle but long-lasting effects on the culture of our organizations and communities. If you have the ability to affect policy at your agency, this can also help set the tone and influence the culture. For instance, shortly after arriving at Texas A&M, I banned school funds from being used to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages. While getting sweet tea out the hands of a Texan is not easy, most people were very receptive to the new policy, and now it has become the norm in our school.

Getting involved in your local schools is also a great way to make a public health resolution. All schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program are required to have a local school wellness policy. It is easy to get this from your principal. Then get involved in the school board, PTA, or school health advisory councils. These efforts can help strengthen and enhance wellness efforts at the schools.

Finally, you can get involved in your community policy making. Local policy often has the most effect on public health, but we are often not represented. Make a resolution to attend a neighborhood board meeting, get appointed to a town board or committee, or speak to a local elected official about important public health issues in your district.

As we ring in 2017, it is a great time to make a public health resolution and help make this year America’s healthiest. I would love to hear your ideas for making a public health resolution. Please leave a comment and let me know what you are planning on doing.

Happy and Healthy New Year!

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

*Articles may require a subscription to JPHMP or purchase.

Jay E. Maddock, PhD is the Dean of the School of Public Health at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on over $18 million in extramural funding and authored over 100 scientific articles. [Full Bio]

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