Public health implications of health behaviors and diseases

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Authors: Emmanuel Keku, Abidemi Fasanmi, Anthony La, and Joav Merrick
Page Range: 3-4
Published in: International Public Health Journal, 15#1 (2023)
ISSN: 1947-4989

Table of Contents

Introduction

A central objective of public health practice and policy development is to influence health behavior change. During the pre-Covid-19 era, this core objective of public health was observed in the significant increase of global support for the public health field with increasing attention to preventing exposures to unhealthy behaviors, and risk factors and encouraging healthy lifestyle practices through behavioral modifications. The public health practitioners were excited about the positive outcomes of these interventions at private, public, and professional levels. However, bridging the disparities gap is still a problem. Globally, there are major health disparities issues concerning healthcare, vaccination, prevention of diseases, and treatment of diseases. The disparity gap is also increasing between racial groups and countries. The present Covid-19 era significantly exposed the complexities of these disparities within healthcare practices such as access to care, vaccination, and treatments for Covid-19 both within and across countries.

Public health practitioners are obligated to seek ways to improve access to healthcare services and decrease health disparities. It is important to emphasize that the issues of accessibility to healthcare and health disparities are of major concern to public health practitioners globally. Some way this could be achieved is to improve health literacy, especially when it comes to improving vaccination rates globally. Within the context of improving health literacy, we see a significant need for supporting roles for public health researchers, behavioral scientists, health educators, health promoters, health comm-unicators, epidemiologists, environmentalists, and governments in policy development, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation.

Influence behavior change

To decrease morbidity and mortality of diseases within populations, public health practitioners need to influence behavior change at multiple levels: the individual, community, and institutions. For an individual, knowledge, and understanding of how health behaviors and exposures to risk factors for disease development are essential and linked to positive behavior change and healthy choices. Similarly, communities and institutional changes aimed at social, economic, and environmental changes are needed to eliminate social and structural barriers that limit or prevent access to health literacy, and healthcare services, hinder positive behavior choices and increase healthcare costs, thereby, reducing the quality of life.

Though chronic diseases dominate the leading causes of death globally, we are beginning to see emerging infectious diseases such as Covid-19 and Ebola. The systematic methods we develop to control both chronic and infectious diseases in the populations should be focused and include addressing issues such as access to healthcare and health disparities which are often overlooked. In this Covid-19 era, an ongoing public health assessment, interventions, and monitoring of health behaviors is key to improving holistic public health activities. This effort must encompass preventive and treatment interventions at public, private, and governmental levels. Although the effects are not always initially apparent, implementing a preventive approach proves to be an effective way of saving future implied health care costs of those who would have accrued a condition. It is important to understand that an overall healthier community would naturally lead to decreased burden on healthcare infrastructures both financially and operationally.

Prevention

Preventive approaches such as education or increased screening can theoretically decrease incidences of chronic diseases that require expensive long-term management of care. The government of each country must also determine and implement health policies that promote prevention and provide healthcare services in a sustainable and cost-efficient manner. It is essential to emphasize that governmental health policies that encourage ongoing cost-benefit analyses or effectiveness of resource allocations will improve the health outcomes of their populations and control both chronic and emerging infectious diseases within their countries. Middle- and low-income countries often have a difficult decision to make when it comes to the allocation of their healthcare resources due to limited healthcare resources, and these countries tend to allocate a significant amount of healthcare resources to infectious disease control than chronic diseases. This decision is associated with the urgency to mitigate infectious disease outbreaks and their immediate outcome which is more devastating than that of chronic diseases, even though, chronic diseases are more costly to treat and often lead to poor quality of life. It is, therefore, pertinent that public health practitioners encourage governments to allocate healthcare resources equitably to both infectious and chronic diseases.

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