What Surrounds Us Shapes Our Health—Look to Primary Prevention for Better Health

August 08, 2023 | Robin Matthies, Allison Budzinski, Heather Sebero

A family reads together on the couchThe places where we live, learn, work, and play shape our health in many ways. For example, having a livable wage plays a significant role in health outcomes as it affects access to nutritious food, supportive services, and housing. Jobs with livable wages and high-quality childcare nearby can create stronger communities, which benefits the mental and physical health of everyone.

Community members and policymakers that want to prevent suicides, overdoses, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can choose to intervene at different levels.

Three Levels of Prevention

  • Primary prevention addresses root causes directly by improving early intervention support.
  • Secondary prevention involves interventions that aid individuals and communities in overcoming challenges they are currently facing and work to alleviate future harm.
  • Tertiary prevention is the critical response in times of crisis and encompasses treatment services vital for recovery.

Society is inherently reactive, and decision makers’ attention is quickly directed to resolving crises and alleviating immediate dangers or concerns. As community members and policymakers seek to address suicide, overdose, and ACEs, they often promote secondary and tertiary interventions, which offer life-saving relief with more immediate results.

Although secondary and tertiary interventions will always be necessary, public health professionals are ready to partner with community members and policymakers to implement primary prevention strategies.

The ASTHO What Surrounds Us Shapes Our Health graphic offers a new and tangible approach for public health professionals to collaborate with community members and guide policymakers in a collective prioritization of primary prevention. The graphic displays the impact of providing a strong start for children, but the message of primary prevention can be applied across many public health outcomes.

By working together on primary prevention policies, like increasing access to high-quality, affordable childcare, we can reduce caregiver stress. Reducing that stress is shown to lower rates of child abuse and neglect in families. Preventing experiences of childhood trauma can improve overall physical and mental health over time.

The benefit of addressing root causes of one health concern often encompasses prevention of multiple negative health outcomes. By improving contributing factors—such as income, education, food access, and housing security—public health practitioners, community members, and policymakers can contribute to an improved quality of life for all communities and eliminate health inequities.

As the graphic describes, primary prevention can impact individuals, relationships, communities, and societies. ASTHO offers a deeper look into primary prevention bills across 48 states and Washington, D.C. in Policy Considerations for Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences. The report reveals childcare as one of the greatest costs to young families and highlights how subsidies decrease the risk of child maltreatment. The graphic offers insight into the benefits of subsidizing the cost of high-quality childcare for individuals, families, and communities. Examples include:

  • Individual: Lifelong skills and opportunities for better health, such as the development of social and emotional skills.
  • Relationships: Safe and stable home environments achieved through resources and support, ultimately preventing risk factors linked to violence and neglect in the home.
  • Community: Strong schools, businesses, and a local economy that creates connected and safe neighborhoods.
  • Society: Shared responsibility for the health and well-being of all children through collective support and investments in quality childcare.

By supporting primary prevention policies, we are investing in solutions that address problems before they start. This investment will make individuals and communities stronger, equipping all people with the support they need to thrive.