Defining Public Health

Public health is the study of the health conditions of populations as affected by socioeconomic circumstances, and ways to effectively combat illnesses and unhealthy lifestyles as a community.

A critical component to public health studies is research. Research helps to generate accurate records of the health standards in different populations under different living conditions. For example, researchers involved in epidemiology study the distribution and spread of diseases, helping to characterize the environments in which certain diseases are transmitted and the ways or social dynamics in which they are spread. Such illnesses cover both infectious diseases, the most alarming of which include the Zika virus, MERS, and Ebola, as well as noninfectious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It is important to note that it is the public health sector that does not simply look at the severity or cure of disease, as would most medical professionals; public health tries to understand the culture or lifestyles that lead to such distribution of various illnesses. The research component of public health is becoming ever more pivotal as globalization is taking place at an accelerating rate—we now have more interactions with people of different regions, which, in essence, leave us more susceptible to transmit disease by means of both physical contact and cultural assimilation. Characterizing a region with a certain lifestyle and its prevalent diseases not only helps to track the transmittance and origin of a disease but also helps to effectively deal with other situations, similar in circumstances, in a different region or time period.

Public health not only studies but also acts. Public health professionals try to come up with the most effective yet feasible solution to the various public health issues addressed by research. Delivering adequate health care to developing countries is a major mission that many public health organizations strive for. In doing so, however, they must consider the long term and short-term benefits to the nations’ health standards. A classic debate is providing medication, which would be a short-term solution, versus providing education to train their people to become future doctors and health-related researchers, a long-term solution. Another major mission of many public health professionals is to help trigger change in unhealthy lifestyles in both developing and developed nations. These efforts take form of public service announcements, and education on healthy lifestyles. In such ways, public health takes on both preventative and therapeutic approaches.

Lastly, public health professionals help to look at medical diagnoses from the perspective of both the physician and patient. For example, the “over-diagnosis” of thyroid cancer in South Korea in recent years has been a source of debate. With development of technology, patients have been able to detect thyroid cancers at very early stages and a very low cost. Upon diagnosis however, some argue that the tumors do not have to be treated while others argue that patients be on the safe side, and have the tumor removed. Public health sectors may help to analyze and weigh out the economic limitations patients see in the operation and doctors’ judgments of removal for long-term health. The high diagnosis of thyroid cancer in South Korea, itself, may be another focus of some public health professionals.

In sum, public health professionals strive to research, understand and ameliorate health conditions of various populations of disparate socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.

What is Public Health?

Public health is simply the health of a large group of people. This health is usually measured by a central agency and the population can be of a city, state, or country. However, a growing field of importance is international public health. This is one of the most significant areas of public health because it involves nations on a wide spectrum of healthcare efficiency. There are nations that worry about degenerative diseases, various cancers, and extending the life expectancy past eighty. On the other hand, there are nations struggling to vaccinate their children and are still battling infectious diseases that have been eliminated just across the ocean decades ago. Consequently, having an agency that monitors, reports, and recommends certain programs to improve international public health is a high priority in our globalizing economy. The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control regularly make comprehensive analyses of international health and possible epidemics.

While important, one central agency does not have to be responsible to address public health. There are ample private enterprises, such as the Gates Foundation, that seek to improve the quality of life of people in disadvantaged areas. Thus, these organizations are also involved in the larger goal of improving public health on a social level. Finally, it is worth noting that although public health is the overall health of a population, individuals make up this population and, thus, are directly affected by public health policies (or lack of). Individuals cannot isolate their own health and quality of life from the public health of the area they are living because the policies implemented to improve public health will directly improve their own standard of living. On the other hand, lack of strong and effective policy to improve public health would lower the standard of living of all individuals within that population. In conclusion, public health is significant because it interconnects the health of all humans in our increasingly connected world.

Mini Presentations on Public Health Organizations

For the organization you’ve been assigned, consider the following questions:

  • How does this organization define public health?
  • What does this organization think is important about public health?
  • How does this organization address public health issues?

For your group presentations (5–7 minutes each), you will quickly introduce us to your organization and answer the questions above. Ideally, you will also show us how you formulated your answers. For instance, is there somewhere on the organization’s website that defines public health, clues you in on why the organization thinks public health is important, and/or details the organization’s plans for tackling public health issues?

What is Public Health?

For your primer (at least 300 words), answer the following questions: What is public health? Why is it important?

A primer is a short book introducing the basic principles of a particular subject. Usually, we use the word “primer” to refer to an elementary book that teaches children how to read. Given that, treat this primer assignment as an opportunity for you to teach me your definition of public health and your understanding of its significance. While I can’t check to make sure that you didn’t do any research before writing this assignment, I highly encourage you to curb that research impulse and take the time to think about what you already know. How do you define public health? What argument would you make about its significance? What examples of public health (from your own experience, from what you’ve learned from the news, etc.) illustrate your definition and your claim for its importance?

Bring a printed copy of your primer to class on Thursday. We’ll discuss all of your definitions then. Happy writing!