Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocating for Parks and Healthy Populations

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Advocating for Parks and Healthy Populations

Article excerpt

Public health threats can emerge at a moment's notice and sometimes last a lifetime. When most Americans think of public health, it conjures thoughts of the traditional battles against obesity, cancer, heart disease, smoking and other chronic diseases that have plagued Americans for decades. Traditional public health efforts have been backed by massive media and advertising campaigns--think "Just Say No," the famous anti- drug initiative helmed by former First Lady Nancy Regan during the 1980s. They also required long, drawn-out research and education efforts to find cures or reduce usage. It often took years to diagnose potential causes and symptoms before the public became aware, let alone for governments to act. For decades, these public health battles have been funded by bouncing levels of public dollars from state, local and federal governments, and bolstered by private giving campaigns, long-term commitments from endowments and the selfless largess of many well-heeled celebrities.

The most recent public health threats, including the toxic drinking water plaguing residents of Flint, Michigan; sexually transmitted and mosquito-driven outbreaks of Zika in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and elsewhere; travel-related confirmations of Zika in the continental United States; and the scourge of opioid addiction raging throughout rural farming communities, suburban cul-de-sacs and urban jungles around the nation, have moved across states lines and international borders like tidal waves. The unprecedented speed of these crises --especially the opioid pandemic--has taken entire communities captive in their wake with surprising quickness. However, unlike the addiction episodes of the "Just Say No" era, where entire communities were swallowed whole before the public conscious was awakened, public health advocates, including park and recreation agencies, are working to make sure state, local and national leaders are aware of emerging threats before they become national problems.

Armed with reams of data, the latest research and enough personal stories to melt the hearts and open the wallets of the toughest fiscal hawks, public health advocates have moved into the 21st century and away from the sequestered approaches of the past. Instead of hiding in their laboratories and sending leather-bound journals of wonky academic papers that were filled with unintelligible parochial jargon, confusing charts and NASA-approved graphs to mayors, governors and members of Congress --often without any layman's explanation of what these journals and articles were about--public health advocates are meeting leaders on their own turf: in state legislatures, city councils and the halls of Congress. …

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