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  • By Gaafar J. Uherbelau

Health in all policies

Koror — Last month we said that as much as we are led to believe (and we even tell ourselves) that our health is mostly determined by our individual choices and actions – it is rather more complicated than that. We said that if we take some time to look around us, we will realize that the most influential factors to our health are the things in and around the environments that we live, work, and play in.

Among the things that we don’t often think about, let alone examine in detail, are public policies and how they have a direct or indirect impact on our health. We might think of public policy in general as something only members of congress and government leaders are tasked to formulate and implement but really, public policy aims to solve problems and allow for our betterment – the well-being and welfare of the society. So although policy-making is intrinsically a political activity, we should always strive to have some sort of input into how they may be created or not created for us.

A great example of a public policy that promotes health (healthy public policy) is the seatbelt law. And yes I know, in Palau it’s like, “What seatbelt law?” But in almost all other countries in the world, the seatbelt law literally forces motorists and passengers to buckle up or pay a fine or worse, risk death and injury. And while the challenge for having such law is in its enforcement, it is nevertheless an effective measure that saves lives and prevents injuries. So I guess the real question is why have we not yet enacted such a law in Palau? How many more fatal car crashes do we need to see before we have a seatbelt law? Is it an issue of financial resources – that we don’t have eno

ugh officers to enforce the law? What could possibly be more worthy of tax funded appropriations than much needed healthy public policies?

But healthy policies are not only limited to macro level policies such as acts and national laws, but can also be formulated and implemented at a lower lever such as in workplaces, schools, and public spaces. A good example is the No sugary drink/No junk food policies implemented in schools. This may prove effective in influencing a child’s diet, albeit most of their empty and unhealthy calories is consumed at home and during the hours that they are not in school. Nevertheless, it’s still another step in the right direction. Maybe in our households we can adopt similar policies for the entire family – something like a No Soda Weekdays or a No junk for dinner policy. Remember those personal health goals and resolutions that we keep failing on our own? Perhaps if we set and strive to achieve healthy goals as a family, we could all have some success instead of just one having total failure.

So as we can see, policies at all levels, be it micro, macro and even at a global level, are a major environmental influence on our health. Coined in the European Union and adopted by the World Health Organization, the phrase and mission, “Health in all Policies” aims to encourage the consideration of health impact in all policy and decision-making activities. Hence, as small island communities with our health ever more threatened by globalization and socio-economic disparities, I move that we expeditiously abide by this philosophy of looking at everything through the lenses of health and seeing if the decisions we are making for our society really do promote the health, welfare, and well-being of our people. Do I hear a second?

Gaafar Uherbelau is a social marketer for the Palau Ministry of Health and is currently studying Social Sciences for Public Health at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Send feedback to

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