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What is Public Health?

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Definitions

What is Public Health from the Association of Schools of Public Health:

"Public health protects and improves the health of individuals, communities, and populations, locally and globally."

This web site includes an Academic Program Finder

  » This Is Public Health campaign is a way for Public Health students to demonstrate all the ways in which Public Health improves our lives.

"Public Health is the science and the art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting physical health and efficiency through organized community efforts for the sanitation of the environment, the control of community infections, the education of the individual in principles of personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing services for the early diagnosis and preventive treatment of disease, and the development of the social machinery which will ensure to every individual in the community a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health."
— From C E A Winslow, The Untilled Fields of Public Health (PDF), Science 51(1306): 23-33 (Jan. 9, 1920)
The mission of public health is "the fullfillment of society's interest in assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy."
The substance of public health is "organized community efforts aimed at the prevention of disease and the promotion of health."
The organizational framework of public health "encompasses both activities undertaken within the formal structure of government and the associated efforts of private and voluntary organizations and individuals."
— From The Future of Public Health, Institute of Medicine. National Academy Press, 1988.
"Together, the [Surgeon General's] reports of the past four decades have expanded the very meaning of public health. They show that the definition of public health is not fixed but has changed over time, and changed the practice of medicine, as well, to include areas such as human behavior and mental health. That fact has broad implications for our understanding of health and risk, personal pleasure and social norms, science and moral standards, and individual freedoms and public policy."
— From The Reports of the Surgeon General: Changing Conceptions of Public Health

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The Ten Essential Public Health Functions

— From the Public Health Functions Steering Committee, 1994.

» See the Public Health in America web site for more information on the Public Health Functions Project.

The Essential Services of Public Health (CDC's National Public Health Performance Standards Program):
This web site provides an expanded explanation of each of the ten essential services - the what and how of public health. "Public health serves communities and individuals within them by providing an array of essential services. Many of these services are invisible to the public. Typically, the public only becomes aware of the need for public health services when a problem develops (e.g., an epidemic occurs)."

Ten Great Public Health Achievements --- Worldwide, 2001--2010

— From CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 24, 2011.

Ten Great Public Health Achievements --- United States, 2001--2010:

— From CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 20, 2011.

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The Public Health Workforce

Who Will Keep the Public Healthy? Educating Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century (2003, Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science)

"The extent to which we are able to make additional improvements in the health of the public depends, in large part, upon the quality and preparednenss of the public health workforce, which is, in turn, dependent upon the relevance and quality of its education and training. This report examines an essential component of the public health workforce — public health professionals."

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Further Reading

Understanding Public Health is a series of books particularly aimed at students and public health practitioners who want to increase and update their knowledge and understanding of public health topics. They "provide a comprehensive account of the three main aims of public health: protecting the public from environmental hazards, improving the health of the public and ensuring high quality health services are available to all." Many titles are available at the Public Health Library, and many are available online — the links below will open in a new window.

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