The Invisible Shield

Health Equity Minute

April 10, 2024

“When public health is working well, it’s invisible.” Have you heard this before? We work behind the scenes, conjuring health protections that appear so seamlessly that most people never think about how we get clean water from the tap, indoor air free from second-hand smoke, or blinking radar speed signs reminding us to slow down.

But is invisibility working for the communities we serve? Is it fostering understanding and developing the resources necessary to make sure everyone has what they need to be healthy and thrive? Is it elevating the fact that prevention can save lives by stopping illness before it starts? On top of that, prevention can contribute to fiscal responsibility. In the United States, we spend 3.6 trillion dollars on health every year, but less than 3% of those dollars are going toward prevention.

You’ll find that statistic–and a wealth of other data, expertise, and stories–in The Invisible Shield, a four-part PBS documentary that explores how experts are rethinking the public health system in the face of declining life expectancy and persistent inequity.

After decades of seeing life expectancy increase dramatically for the U.S. population, in recent years we began seeing a decline. And, as Amy Acton (M.D. and former director of the Ohio Department ofHealth) points out, of the 30 years of life expectancy we gained since 1900, “only five of those years were due to everything I learned in medical school. Twenty-five of the years we gained in that last century were due to things that we can only solve collectively.” And that’s public health–what we as a society do collectively to improve everyone’s health. We encourage you to check out all four episodes of The Invisible Shield at PBS.or

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