Book cover Advocacy for Public Health Policy ChangeAdvocacy experience is often missing on the resume of public health professionals. A new book from APHA Press seeks to fill that gap.

Annual Meeting attendees had an opportunity to virtually meet and ask questions of the coauthors of “Advocacy for Public Health Policy and Change: An Urgent Imperative,” published in September.

The book explains how advocacy, not just peer-reviewed studies, drive the creation of new laws and policies in public health. The coauthors have been steeped in advocacy during their careers. Harry Snyder is a former director and senior advocate for Consumers Union and contributor to Consumer Reports magazine. Anthony Iton is senior vice president for healthy communities at the California Endowment. Both teach advocacy classes to public health students at the University of California in Berkeley.

Tony Iton and Harry SnyderBook chapters include case studies that explore several key elements of advocacy, showing how to use data, strategically plan, communicate and build support for an advocacy campaign. Other chapters describe the strategies and tactics used to advocate in the forums where policies are made or enforced: legislative bodies, administrative agencies, ballots, courts, and private organizations and companies.

The book is relevant to current public health challenges involving the coronavirus and social justice, both Iton and Snyder said. For change to occur, new policies must follow.

“COVID sort of proved the need for the book,” Iton said, with Snyder adding that the social and racial injustices this year also added to the book’s relevance.

But aren’t public health academics unable to advocate because of their university’s 501(c)(3) status? And wouldn’t advocacy by academics create bias concerns about their research?

Iton and Snyder said academics have opportunities to advocate in specific ways, such as by testifying to legislators and providing research for lawsuits.

“I don’t buy into that you can’t advocate for what is good and that that will make you biased,” Snyder said.

Asked if a law degree is needed to advocate, both lawyers said no.

“Law may give you insight into the language, but in advocacy, it is about persuasion and understanding what people need to know,” Iton said. “Those skills are intuitive. What we do is flesh that out. You don’t have to be a lawyer to do that.”

In an interview with The Nation’s Health, Iton compared this devastating year in America to the 1930s depression and the hardships experienced by European nations during World War II. But those hardships eventually opened up opportunities for dramatic policy changes and programs.

Iton said America’s problems also offer “a window of opportunity” for changing laws and policy.

“We think we can achieve universal health care in this window,” Ito told The Nation’s Health. “We think we can achieve police reform in this window. We think we can achieve labor reforms — things like paid sick leave, guaranteed vacation and a living wage — all of which the lack of which have created enormous vulnerability during this pandemic. We think there are policy windows for all of these things.”

But advocates are needed to make it happen.

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Photo of Anthony Iton and Harry Snyder during the author meet and greet by Aaron Warnick, Courtesy The Nation's Health.