Training the Next Generation to Understand What Public Health Is and Can Do

Author Victoria Zigmont reflects on the importance of teaching children about public health and why she wrote a book to help them.

Some of my favorite memories growing up involve reading books. Saturdays, time after school and summers involved in the summer reading program at our local public library. My first “real” job was working as a page at the local public library. Some of you may remember the “Book It” program that Pizza Hut ran in the 90s–I also participated in that, which combined my love of books with a love of pizza. However, most people from New England would argue that Pizza Hut is not “real pizza.” Looking back, it is no wonder that my dream job is being a university professor. As I reflect on those memories, and my positive relationships with books that were forged early, I am surprised that I waited so long to write my first children’s book The ABC’s of Public Health.

Public health is the science and art of preventing diseases. The public health system is responsible for prolonging life and promoting both physical and mental health. Fortunately (or unfortunately) many people now know what public health does because of our shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic over past three years. People even know what an epidemiologist is (I haven’t been asked if I study skin since before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019).

As a professor at University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), as I talk to students, I commonly hear the repeated story that they wish they had learned about public health sooner. For me, it was 3 years after graduating from college that I put the pieces together that this was the right professional home for me after I read Tracy Kidder’s book about Paul Farmer Mountains Beyond Mountains. It is still one of my favorite books today. I want public health to be accessible to everyone and to inspire the next generation of our students to move the field further. Representation is important in this field, as we work to improve the health of our local communities. I knew I needed to write this book when I was scanning the books available for young children and saw that there was a hole in the market; there were popular books for the “ABC’s of Engineering” or “ABC’s of Medicine” but no similar books about what public health is and does.

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My hope for The ABC’s of Public Health is that parents, friends, and family members will share the contents of this book with the children in their networks, and this will help to spread the word about what public health is. If more people know what public health does, and appreciate its value to society, it will bring everyone closer to the goal of living longer and healthier lives. This book is dedicated to the public health workforce who protect and improve the health of people and their communities.