We often hear how important it is to make “healthy choices”—to eat the right foods, to get enough exercise, to get plenty of sleep. But to what extent is it really within our power as individuals to “choose” to be healthy? In making choices about your own life, have you ever been confused by conflicting data or faced other obstacles in your pursuit of good health? Millions of Americans experience lifestyle constraints that may prevent them from putting their health first—from socioeconomic constraints that limit their dietary choices, to labor market constraints that affect their abilities to set healthy schedules, to structural and mobility constraints that compel them to live near areas of high pollution or in so-called “food deserts.” Moreover, most of us struggle to understand the science behind current health controversies—from the growing opioid epidemic to debates over pesticide regulations. This challenge is compounded by the increasing politicization of science, which leads to objective findings becoming distorted as they are twisted to fit one agenda or another. Finding reliable scientific information is a challenge for anyone who wants to fully understand and participate in the national conversation about these complex issues.
In this class, you will learn how scientists approach public health problems, and how their findings are used to assess and intervene against threats to human health. We will begin by looking at health disparities across the US, and considering the biological, behavioral and societal factors that contribute to them. We will then closely examine three pertinent public health issues that significantly affect the health of Americans: 1) mental health and addiction, 2) obesity and cardiovascular disease, and 3) the adverse effects of exposure to environmental pollutants. We will spend a portion of most classes discussing relevant current events, and weekly section meetings will focus on an in-depth exploration of a case study. Our goal is for you gain a greater understanding of your own body, and of what can be done on a personal and societal level to prevent disease. This will ultimately give you the skills you need to analyze and make decisions about current and future public health challenges.