What is Public Health?

Public health is the wellbeing of a group of people in a society. These groups can range from small communities—like those of neighborhoods or cities—to populations of countries or continents, or the entire globe. Inherently, the word “public” describes something that is influenced by multiple members of society. Thus, public health depends on the interactions between members of a community, how individual influences translate into a larger and more widespread effect. These form the health trends that we commonly see described today: the HIV epidemic, the spread of Zika virus, or the obesity epidemic. The study of public health aims to identify factors that affect multiple people, unlike medicine which attempts to treat individuals. The scope of public health can range from a small outbreak of food poisoning in an isolated neighborhood to prevalent infectious diseases such as Ebola or HIV that span multiple countries and multiple continents. Public health can be as basic as providing adequate nutrition and water to impoverished communities or as complex as creating a vaccine for HIV or Zika. It encompasses a broad spectrum of topics related to the health of a community: age, nutrition, pollution, cultural customs, class differences, federal policy, and much more.

Understanding public health is important because it can help governments make informed decisions and craft policies that can improve the standard of living for people, allowing people to live happier and more comfortable lives. For example, public health surveillance and the use of epidemiological records allows the government to track the prevalence of diseases to identify problems. Water testing prevents the public from acquiring waterborne diseases found in polluted waters. Public health is also important because it educates the public about the consequences of their actions. For example, public health research has uncovered the dangers of smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, and pollution, and helped individuals make better choices for their own lives and the lives of those around them. Public health also helps us understand what is occurring outside of our individual lives and promotes the formation of organizations that can provide aid to those who are less fortunate with the goal of promoting worldwide wellbeing. Through public health, the citizens of the world can live safer, more satisfying lives.

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