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What Has Public Health Done For Us?

April 8, 2009, 6:13 PM by Kelli Grant

What Has Public Health Done For Us?
You understand the importance of your health and work hard to keep it in check.  And you're not the only one working to make sure you stay healthy. Public Health is changing the way we live.

You hear the words Public Health and you may think of your doctor, or that medicine you were just prescribed. But it's much more than that.

“There's demographics, there's epidemiology, there's health education, there's sociology, there's the media...yourself, you play a very important role in public health in alerting the public, getting the message out, driving a health message home to people,” Dr. Lon Kightlinger said.

South Dakota State Epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger is just one of the many people who work to keep you safe and healthy. He explained to a large crowd at Augustana's Thought Leader Forum the importance of public health.

“What we want is just public health things to be part of the infrastructure, be part of every day life that people don't even have to think about it, can just assume that it’s there and it's things that your city government usually takes care of,” Kightlinger said.

So what has it done for us?

“It's doubled our life expectancy. It’s brought us into an era when the average life expectancy for people in South Dakota is 79 years of age. That's a huge accomplishment,” Kightlinger said.

And that's thanks to many things we take for granted.

“Eighty percent of those years that we've added on to a person's life in the past century have been due to public health things like water safety, sewage, seat belts.  Good vaccination programs that actually do preventative medicine,” Kightlinger said.

But along with good news, comes the bad.

“One of South Dakota’s problems is we have some counties that have very low death rates, very long life expectancy and right here in Minnehaha County and many of our south eastern counties within the state are in that category. However, we have counties that are really suffering,” Kightlinger said. 

Those are primarily Indian reservations.

“There’s a huge gap.  A huge disparity, a big challenge for all of us,” Kightlinger said.

You can hear more from Dr. Lon Kightlinger about the state's public health on this week's Inside KELOLAND.  That's on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and after the 10 o'clock news.

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