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What is Public Health?


Public health is defined differently by various individuals and organizations. Following are a few common definitions of public health.

  • The promotion of health and prevention of disease through the organized efforts of society.
  • The science and practice of protecting and improving the health of a community, as by preventive medicine, health education, control of communicable diseases, application of sanitary measures, and monitoring of environmental hazards.  (American Heritage Dictionary)
  • Public health is what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions for people to be healthy. This requires that continuing and emerging threats to the health of the public be successfully countered. These threats include immediate crises, such as the AIDS epidemic; enduring problems, such as injuries and chronic illness; and growing challenges, such as the aging of our population and the toxic by-products of a modern economy, transmitted through air, water, soil, or food. These and many other problems raise in common the need to protect the nation's health through effective, organized, and sustained efforts led by the public sector.  (U.S. Institutes of Medicine)

No matter how you define public health, the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop summed up the importance of public health.

  • Health care is vital to all of us some of the time, but public health is vital to all of us all of the time.


Other Resources

Various websites provide further information about the field of public health and will help you learn more about the role of public health in our lives and how you can contribute to the field as a public health professional.

Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH)

American Public Health Association’s (APHA’s) Healthiest Nation in One Generation

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Page Updated 02/27/2014