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Editor's Note

Peter Howard

Safely Ahead of His Time

How did we ever survive the 1960s? 

Things were different then: Kids pedaled bikes without wearing helmets, rode in cars without clicking on seatbelts, and often lived in homes where parents smoked. Such behaviors today are hardly the norm. 

I actually had a reasonably safe childhood growing up in the 1960s in Evanston, Illinois, because my dad was ahead of his time. When he purchased a 1962 Rambler (with a “three on the tree”—a stick shift on the steering column), he refused to drive any of us in the car until the seat belts were installed. That was back in the day when seat belts were added by the dealer. When we went boating, he never left the dock until everyone was wearing a life vest.  And he was among the first on our block to install smoke detectors when they were available. 

What drove his early commitment to safety? Personal experience. In college, he had been on the third floor of a rooming house that caught fire (he escaped with only the pajamas he was wearing). And he, my mother and two older brothers had been on a boat that started taking on water and lacked an adequate supply of life vests. He knew he had been fortunate to survive these near-misses, and he didn’t want to take any chance with us. When I bought a 100cc Yamaha motorcycle in 1972 and rode it home, Dad drove me right back to the dealership and bought me a helmet, making it clear that I would never even get on the bike without it.   

Nobody should have to go through what my dad did in order to value basic safety precautions. That’s why we have laws and healthy behavior campaigns. There are countless examples of public health regulations that have played important roles in saving lives, and preventing or reducing injuries, but they’re not our only option. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s National Salt Reduction Initiative, for example, has persuaded food manufacturers and restaurant chains to collaborate in his efforts to lower the sodium content in prepared foods. And, in our story on confronting the obesity epidemic, many of our experts’ strategies emphasize new ways to help individuals change their eating habits and make informed choices about food. 

We as individuals need to adopt responsible behaviors that are best for our own and our family’s health. All of us—whether we’re CEOs of large companies, government leaders, factory workers or parents of young children—should recognize our moral responsibility to do whatever we can to preserve our own and others’ health and safety.  Though I wasn’t always sure growing up, my father did know best.

Paul B. Seifert
Associate Dean, External Affairs
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
pseifert@jhsph.edu

PS: To see specific examples of how your philanthropy is improving global health, visit our new Web site, “The Fabric of Public Health."

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