What is Public Health?

David McCormick

David McCormick

So what exactly is public health?  If you’ve ever wondered about this question, you’re not alone – the Association of Schools of Public Health realized about a year ago that most people don’t really have any idea what public health professionals do, or what the field of public health offers, so they made this handy website and the video below.

(Link to the video in its original context.) One of the coolest parts of this campaign: you can get the stickers for free!

I like the idea of the ASPH’s campaign and think it’s great that the video shows a lot of public health’s “hidden” aspects, but I wish that the video would show some of the dramatic effects that public health has had on society. While public health is a very broad field, it doesn’t include everything (although it’s a fun game to try to find some connection to public health in everyday objects – think “Six Degrees of Separation” for public health dorks).

The best example is smoking – once it became clear that tobacco smoking was a major health hazard (from epidemiologic research), programs to help people quit started (thanks to Health Behavior and Health Education), and eventually policy changes were made (courtesy of Health Management and Policy) so that smoking is now banned in public places in most states (MI recently passed such a law).

Other examples of changes made by public health professionals are as basic as the regulation of drinking water and ensuring that our food supplies, especially meat, remain disease-free.  Going back to infectious diseases, the national vaccination program has eliminated almost all of what were formally the “childhood diseases” – no-one born in my generation has had to experience widespread polio, measles, or whooping cough outbreaks.  (A list of the 10 greatest public health achievements is found here).

So as a tool for raising awareness, the video is great, but I hope that it encourages people to look deeper into public health.  There really is something for everyone in this field, from microbiology nerds (like me) to those of a political nature (how else would we get public health laws passed?).

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