Public health professor shares sunny outlook on global health

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Public health professor and College of Life Sciences Associate Dean Benjamin Crookston addressed the campus community on July 25, focusing his discussion on often unacknowledged yet remarkable strides made in global health.

Crookston began by discussing the gloomy global outlook often created and perpetuated by the current media ecosystem. It is often easy to assume everything is going downhill, he said.

“However, I am thankful to report … the gathering clouds are not our only forecast,” Crookston said. “Rather, recent history suggests the world is getting far better than most people realize.”

In Crookston’s lifetime, there have been “tremendous improvements” in global health and development, he said.

Benjamin Crookston, BYU professor of public health and associate dean of the College of Life Sciences, discusses positive trends in global health and development and the need for continued progress. He encouraged audience members to serve neighbors both near and far with love and understanding. (Emma Everett)

For example, he said childhood deaths have dropped by over 60% and maternal mortality has declined by almost half worldwide since 1990. The number of people living in extreme poverty has reportedly been reduced by 80% in the last 57 years. 

“As families and individuals have access to more resources, they can do more than just survive — they can thrive, contribute to their communities and realize their potential,” Crookston said.

More recently, HIV and malaria deaths have declined, he said. Additionally, he said that since 2004, global tobacco use has dropped by 30%. 

“While not meant to be exhaustive, these health statistics combined provide a hopeful view of the health of the world, contrary to the gloom that many may be persuaded to hold,” he said.

These improvements can be attributed in part to the work of professionals, government action and technological advancement, Crookston explained.

Education also plays a significant role in human health and success, he said.

“For example, in low-income settings when a mother can read and write, her child is 36% more likely to make it to their fifth birthday than a child born to a mother who is illiterate,” Crookston said.

Even with all of these leaps in global health and development, it is still important to acknowledge gaps and shortcomings.

“We continue to live in a world where a person’s ZIP code is more predictive of their health than their genetic code,” Crookston said.

Crookston encouraged the audience to take a balanced — both optimistic and realistic, both domestic and foreign — view of global health, which, he said, inspires action and progress.

For those unsure where to start with their local and global community service, Crookston proposed five actions: (1) choose to love, (2) choose to understand, (3) choose to change, (4) choose to support and (5) choose to participate.

“I hope you will walk away from today’s discussion with renewed hope for the future,” he said. “These hopeful trends, combined with the extraordinary influence of the light of the restored gospel, give me confidence we will continue to tackle the great challenges of our day with both optimism and action.”

Crookston concluded his remarks by inviting the campus community to follow Jesus Christ’s example of service.

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