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It’s perhaps the greatest resource a person can have. Some of us are lucky enough to be born with an abundance. A fortunate few get to enjoy it for most of their lives.
But this powerful resource is something many of us take for granted—at least until it’s gone. It’s your health. You may have been blessed with the gift of good health for most of your life, or you’re one of the many who has experienced health challenges already. No matter which of these categories you happen to fall into right now, odds are if you live long enough, someday you’re going to find yourself advocating for your own health or the health of someone you love.
Good health, though, is about far more than being free of physical illness or injury. Health involves the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. However, maintaining your physical, psychological, and emotional well-being means different things to different people. Your individual health risks may vary widely, depending on a range of factors, from your age and gender to where you live and work.
This article explores the topic of population health, and how you can use population health to advocate for your well-being and that of those you love.
Understanding Population, Public, and Community Health
It can be easy to confuse and conflate population, public, and community health. There’s a lot of overlap between them, especially in that all are designed to identify particular health risks shared by groups of people and then to develop prevention and treatment strategies based on that information.
Population health, though, is unique in that it narrows the focus a bit compared with a wider focus of public health or the geographically-focused orientation of community health. Population health looks at a range of demographic features to determine what characteristics might put you at risk for mental or physical illness.
Why Population Health Matters
Today, patients are faced with an increasingly overburdened healthcare system, where an aging population is combing with an intensifying shortage of healthcare providers. Knowing how to be your own health advocate is more important now than ever. That means understanding how the life you live can impact your overall health.
One of the most significant risk factors for individual and population health in the United States is the lack of adequate health insurance. According to recent estimates, nearly 30 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured. If you are a nurse or a healthcare provider, it is important to recognize that financial considerations related to inadequate insurance coverage are leading millions to delay essential routine or preventative care.
However, if you are among the millions who lack sufficient health insurance, then you are at greater risk for potentially life-threatening conditions, from high blood pressure to colon cancer. These conditions can be detected through routine physical exams, but typically do not produce significant physical symptoms until the condition has advanced.
Fortunately, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. There are a number of resources you can turn to help you in your fight for the healthcare you deserve.
Your first and best bet is do some research into the various government agencies and NGOs operating in your area. If you are facing an injury or illness, you might also reach out to the myriad non-profits centered on research and support for those affected, such as the Alzheimer’s Association and American Diabetes Association.
In addition, if you or someone you love simply is not receiving the care you need, then it may be time to seek legal support. For instance, for seniors with complex medical needs, especially those who are uninsured or underinsured, legal advocacy may be the key to accessing the life-saving care they need.
It isn’t just the lack of adequate health insurance that puts certain populations at risk. Where you work and the kind of work you do can also put you at significant risk for both physical and psychological harms.
For instance, if you served in the military prior to 1970, it’s possible that you were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos. This puts you at an increased risk of mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of lung cancer. Likewise, if you work—or live—in an older building, you should investigate to ensure that asbestos-containing construction materials are not present.
When it comes to advocating for your and health in the workplace, the most important thing is to know your rights. Under federal law, you are entitled to safer working environments and conditions.
So when you suspect that your workplace is not meeting those standards, you have both the right and the responsibility to speak up. This includes reporting concerns to external authorities, such as OSHA.
It is also important to advocate for safe practices in the workplace, which should include routine safety training for all employees. If this is not something that has already been implemented in your workplace, then you should address the need with your superiors.
When it comes to women’s health, certain risks seem to get more play than others. For example, you may not know that heart disease, not breast or cervical cancer, is the number one killer of women. However, because heart disease is typically thought of as a “man’s disease,” and because symptoms of heart disease are often different for women than for men, the tell-tale signs are often missed in women until it is too late.
But it’s not just physical illness that poses a particular risk to women. Emotional and psychological risk factors are also a significant concern for women. After all, women are often the caretakers, finding themselves negotiating the seemingly endless demands of work, home, and family.
And that means that women, far too often, forget about self-care, resulting in high levels of stress, and the physical and psychological effects that come with it. Fortunately, recognizing your risk factors means being able to make the changes you need to mitigate those risks.
For instance, it’s time to recognize that building a little “me time” into your daily routine isn’t selfish or lazy. It’s a way to love yourself–and to model the kind of self-love and care you want your own daughters to practice in their own lives, even when the responsibilities of being wives, mothers, and professionals begin to pile up.
Advocating for your health as a woman also means attending to your own emotional and psychological well-being. That means taking time to get away from the duties of home and work and having a little fun! It also means ensuring you have a healthy diet and adequate sleep. Above all, it means not being afraid to get help when you need it.
Being your own health advocate means understanding your risk factors. This includes recognizing the particular physical and mental illnesses you may be vulnerable to based on specific factors, such as your gender or your work history. Above all, it means recognizing that you are your own best champion and that, when it comes to fighting for your health, you are worth it!
Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, social justice, environmental protection, and more. In her off time you can find her in the mountains with her two dogs. You can follow her work on Contently, or reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @indianalee3