What is Public Health?

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It refers to the initiatives taken by communities and governments to preserve the health and wellbeing of the entire population, by focusing on health actions taken by the individual.

Improving public health is often done by taking actions to prevent the spread of disease or by creating programs to educate the public about health. Some of the most well-known public health initiatives include vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease, promoting public awareness about the dangers of tobacco use, and educating people on maintaining healthy lifestyles.

Increasing the use of vaccinations is one of the most important public health priorities because vaccinations prevent the spread of diseases that are extremely contagious and dangerous. Public health policies that encourage childhood vaccinations have nearly eliminated some of the most dangerous and contagious diseases. The recent flare of measles cases in the United States highlights the importance of vaccinations. Studies show that measles vaccinations are 97% effective at preventing the spread of this disease, making them a critical tool for ensuring public health.

Another essential public health priority is educating the public about health issues in order to help them make better health related decisions. Educational programs and information about improving health are often distributed through government agencies such as the CDC. For example, the CDC has helped significantly decrease the use of tobacco by educating the general public about the harms of tobacco use. Increasing public awareness about the dangers of tobacco use has not only helped improve the lives of individuals who smoke, it has also helped people who spend time around those who smoke by decreasing the risks of being near second hand smoke.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works