Area Educators Revive Public Health Group

October 26, 2018 |

By Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press, 10-16-2018

ST. PETER — The professions within public health education are countless and diverse.

Some involve programs to reduce sexual assault, alcohol and drug abuse, the spread of infectious disease, and tobacco use. Others involve strategies to promote healthy living at a scale ranging from individuals, to families, to schools, to corporate workforces. Another segment might advocate for trails and parks, safe walking routes to schools, clean air and water, access to locally grown food — all aimed at boosting public health.

“But we have that common thread of educating and advocating for the prevention of health risks,” said Mary Kramer, an assistant professor in Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Department of Health Science.

One thread that, for the last decade, was not tying the professionals together was the Minnesota chapter of the Society for Public Health Education. SOPHE had been defunct until recently when it was resuscitated, largely by people from Minnesota State Mankato and Gustavus Adolphus College.

A daylong Health Education Summit on Wednesday at Gustavus is the first public evidence of the revival of SOPHE. Kramer, a member of the association’s board of directors, said 100 or more attendees are expected with speakers covering topics such as opioid abuse and overdose prevention, gun violence, and food insecurity.

The keynote presentation is by Michael Patton of California’s Claremont Graduate University. Patton’s speech is on “Enhancing Rigor to Increase Impact of Health Promotion Programs.”

The topic may not sound exciting to lay people, but it’s critical for those working toward public health education, Kramer said. Essentially, Patton will be focusing on using scientific methods to discover whether a particular program is effective or not.

“We have to show results ... return on investment,” she said.

Kramer has little doubt the resurrection of a Minnesota chapter of SOPHE will bring results, allowing professionals, college students and potential employers to connect, keep up to date on the latest research and learn of programs that are working elsewhere in Minnesota and the nation.

And it’s not surprising the society came back to life through the efforts of MSU and Gustavus.

“We probably have the strongest public health education program in the state,” Kramer said of MSU. And Gustavus, which offers a six-course public health minor, is home to Karl Larson, a professor of health and exercise science and the new president of the Minnesota chapter of SOPHE.

Kramer said the demise of SOPHE in Minnesota is probably tied to belt-tightening during the Great Recession when employers that cut back on opportunities for employees to attend conferences and get involved in professional development. Those investments are critical, she said, for public health initiatives to keep pace with the everchanging challenges facing Minnesota.

“We have to work together,” she said. “... We have to learn how to use everybody’s strengths to get things done.”

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