What Is Public Health? (2023)

Public health is a field of study that is concerned with preventing diseases, prolonging life, and promoting physical and mental health. It also focuses on sanitation, personal hygiene, control of infectious disease, and organization of health services.

The field is also concerned with ensuring the availability of healthcare services and resources to individuals in all communities, regardless of their income or background. Moreover, it is focused on addressing social determinants of health, such as inequality and poverty.

Preventing Diseases

Preventing diseases and other illnesses is a key part of public health. This involves activities that reduce the likelihood of an illness or injury occurring, prevent a disease from developing in a susceptible individual, and/or help people recover from a chronic illness.

There are many different ways to prevent diseases, including staying home when sick and washing your hands regularly. These practices are simple, inexpensive, and effective against pathogens that can spread easily by person-to-person contact.

CDC’s goals for preventing diseases include targeting modifiable risk behaviors through social determinants, which are the environmental and socioeconomic conditions that determine someone’s health. Such efforts can include promoting smoking cessation, improving access to smokefree air, and increasing access to healthy foods.

These approaches work best when combined with other strategies, such as education and communication. They are also more likely to have a lasting impact on population health.

Promoting Health

Public health focuses on promoting the overall health and well-being of an entire community or population. This can include reducing the risk of disease, controlling environmental hazards, and enhancing access to health care.

A key premise of public health is that it is a social process in which individuals and communities increase their control over factors that affect their health, such as diet, lifestyle and environment. This translates to an improved quality of life for the individual and greater social equity.

Despite the progress made in medical research, many noncommunicable diseases continue to cause a high rate of death worldwide. These conditions, such as obesity and tobacco use, often are the result of social issues that impact an individual’s behavior.

To promote the welfare of an entire community, a government needs to invest in early prevention. This can reduce the costs of care later in life. Developing a program that encourages healthy behaviors and environments is an excellent way to do this.

Preparing for Emergencies

Preparing for emergencies and other situations through public health measures is crucial to protecting the health and well-being of people. It can include creating a family emergency plan, building an emergency kit and learning first aid skills.

Emergencies are sudden and unexpected incidents affecting health, safety or the environment that may cause illness or harm. This includes natural disasters, terrorist attacks, extreme weather such as storms and floods, and biological and chemical threats.

These emergencies can be serious and life-threatening, but they don't happen all the time. By preparing for emergencies and other situations, you can reduce your risk of injury and death.

Legislation should permit officials to take a more nuanced approach in a crisis, distinguishing measures that are essential or high priority from those that are not. Such distinctions are vital to ensuring a sustainable response that balances the risks of contributing to community transmission against other public priorities.

Providing Health Care

Providing health care is one of the most basic functions of public health. This includes prevention, promotion and preparedness, as well as the provision of health services such as emergency medical services (EMS), certified home health agencies and public health laboratories.

Similarly, the provision of other services to individuals and communities is also an essential aspect of public health. These services may include educating residents on healthy behaviors, assisting with access to health insurance, translation and transportation assistance, or housing and food resources.

As public health practitioners, our mission is to fulfill society's interest in assuring conditions for good health by preventing disease and promoting the well-being of all people. This is done through a complex system of governance that involves federal, state and local agencies and authorities that work in collaboration with each other to address population health challenges.

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