by Joshua Sharfstein
According to the National Academy of Sciences, the average life expectancy is lower in the United States than in other nations with advanced economies. Within our borders, African-Americans, rural Americans and poor Americans on average die years earlier than others. In fact, for some groups–including poor, white Americans–as a result of suicide, drug addiction and chronic illness, life expectancy is now actually falling. It is no surprise that political leaders across the ideological spectrum increasingly are asking what can be done to protect and promote the health of their communities. In many areas, county and state governments are calling on state and local public health departments to deliver major improvements in health. What does it take to save lives—not one by one through medical treatment, but hundreds of thousands or even millions at a time? This may sound like a crazy question, but it’s the right one to ask. Public health campaigns have in fact saved the lives of millions of people in the United States and around the world from malnutrition, infectious disease, unclean water and air, and other preventable conditions. In the United States, even today, up to half of all premature deaths are preventable.