A Public Health Primer

CYNTHIA SANI What is Public Health?

Public health focuses on preventative care and population health. The field works to minimize health risks in the environment by constructing population-based prevention programs and stresses health promotion in order to prevent diseases and reduce health disparities. Those who work in public health tackle issues such as healthcare accessibility, outbreak control, child mortality, sanitation, tobacco use, and natural disasters.

Public health evaluates the health status of communities to ascertain and prioritize pressing issues. Public health workers push for public policies which help mitigate those problems, and public health workers advocate for the right to good health. The field works to remedy the different standards of medical care applied to various localities around the world, and a large part of public health involves championing for healthcare equity. An integral facet of public health involves working with vulnerable populations and providing care in low-resource areas.




Public health achievements in the past century include vaccination campaigns, improvements in motor-vehicle safety, safer workplaces, the control of infectious diseases, a reduction in mortality rates of coronary heart disease and stroke, more nutritious and safe food, a decline in infant and maternal mortality, an increase in accessibility to family planning services, the fluoridation of drinking water, and the identification of tobacco as a health hazard.

If public health is mentioned in the media, it is usually in the contexts of an epidemic, such as Ebola or measles, or an incident of food contamination, such as Listeria monocytogenes in Blue Bell ice cream. Public health works tirelessly to keep the environment safe, and it is only when something has gone wrong do we usually realize how many aspects of our lives depend on the work of public health.


Why is Public Health important?

The United States outspends every other nation in the world in terms of healthcare. World Bank data has revealed that in 2012, total healthcare expenditures in the United States made up around 18% of the nation’s GDP. The White House predicts that by 2020, healthcare spending will reach 20%. Yet according to the World Health Organization, our overall health system performance is lacking compared to other countries.

The increased prevalence of chronic illnesses among Americans highlights the need to invest in preventative care. The health issues we spend the most on – heart disease, stroke, and diabetes – are also the most preventable. Community prevention has saved $600 billion over 25 years. However, only 3% of healthcare spending goes to public health prevention programs. If we increase the investment on preventative care, prioritize public health funding, and consider care from a population perspective, the healthcare costs in this country as well as deaths from preventable diseases can be reduced.



Check out the Texas Public Health Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/UTtexaspublichealth?fref=nf

If you’re interested in joining the organization, check their website: http://www.texaspublichealth.org/


1)      "Public Health." World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2015. <http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story076/en/>.

2)      "Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/about/history/tengpha.htm>.

3)      "Health Expenditure, Total (% of GDP)." Health Expenditure, Total (% of GDP). The World Bank, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

4)      "The Economic Case for Health Care Reform." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

5)      The Prevention and Public Health Fund: A Critical Investment in Our Nation’s Physical and Fiscal Health. Issue brief. The American Public Health Association, June 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. <https://www.apha.org/~/media/files/pdf/topics/aca/apha_prevfundbrief_june2012.ashx>.

6)      Public Health Prevention Efforts: Saving Lives, Saving Money? Issue brief. Alliance For Health Reform, Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.allhealth.org/publications/Public_health/Public_Health_Prevention_Efforts_Issue_Brief_115.pdf>.

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