What is Public Health

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short essay on what encompasses Public Health

Submitted: January 20, 2011

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Submitted: January 20, 2011



Public health encompasses nearly every area of daily living, thus, it is difficult to find a definition broad enough to illustrate its complexity. In general, it is best to remember that public health is always concerned with the health of the group, as opposed to the individual. It is often pro-active, concerned with preventing future threats to the heath of the public; however, at times, it is by necessity re-active. Certain things, such as food borne illness, cannot always be prevented. Perhaps the best definition for public health in the 21st century is “The totality of all evidence-based public and private efforts that preserve and promote health and prevent disease, disability, and death” (Riegelman, 2010, p. 4). This paper will serve to elaborate, within the aforementioned definition, on what public health is and the methods it employs to protect the public. It is imperative to note that public health is always evidence-based; while there is some level of prediction involved in certain cases (e.g. flu vaccines), it is always based upon scientific evidence-- as opposed to anecdotal evidence. For example, while many believe taking zinc during the flu season will ward off contracting the virus, scientific evidence has yet to indicate this is true; thus, the preventive measures recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not included taking zinc. Instead, the CDC recommends, among other things, getting vaccinated to prevent or lessen the risk of contracting the flu. Furthermore, the CDC provides evidence-based information to the public, so that they understand why it is important to get vaccinated. One of the strongest arguments made by the CDC concerning vaccination is that, since 1976, yearly deaths attributed to the flu have averaged 25,500 (CDC, 2010, “Q & A Seasonal Flu Vaccine,” para. 3); by taking the vaccine, it is estimated that the risk of death is reduced by 80% for the elderly population (CDC, 2010, “How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?,” para. 7).

Furthermore, public health is interested in using science to promote health and prevent diseases. Various health organizations, both public and private, devote an immense amount of resources to produce public health campaigns to educate the public on healthy behaviors and the repercussions of unhealthy behaviors. One campaign that both raises awareness of the consequences and at the same time offers a solution to promote healthy behaviors is the campaign to reduce childhood obesity. Current figures estimate that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades (Craig et al. 2010). In response to this, not only have public health agencies started marketing campaigns through the media to apprise citizens of the issue, but they have also petitioned government to make changes to existing laws. As a result, congress recently approved the Child Nutrition Bill, which raises the standards for school lunches to include more healthy options (Pears, 2010). Prior to this bill, several states had already enacted legislation to tie school lunch funding into a requirement to improve the quality of school lunch programs. The process that resulted in this legislation is a perfect example of public health at work. In addition, public health also works to prevent the transmission of disease. The definition of disease includes communicable diseases, as well as non-communicable diseases. Those involved in public health, both domestic and abroad, work to educate the public about the causes of diseases, the methods to prevent them, as well as to reduce the cases of death or morbidity, due to the disease. In March of 1981 there was a sharp and sudden increase in cases of Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), a rare lung infection (MMW weekly); these cases occurred in different states and, without public health, would have gone unnoticed. However, within one month of the increase the CDC was notified; within three months the CDC had formed a taskforce to investigate the cause—13 months later, the disease causing this had a name--- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – AIDS (Avert, 2010). Without the intervention of the CDC and other public health organizations, it could have been years before this communicable disease was recognized. As a result of the CDC’s intervention, they were able to determine the causes of AIDS and set into place measures that could be taken to prevent new transmissions. While, AIDS is still a problem in today’s society, it is not for lack of education from public health officials. In addition, public health strives to decrease the disability and morbidity caused by non-communicable diseases. In 2004, the World Health Organization concluded that non-communicable diseases account for 60% of deaths in developing countries (Leowski, 2009). Non-communicable diseases are often related to lifestyle choices; thus, often this area of public health is not only devoted to research and intervention, but into using an integrated approach to change the behaviors that are linked to the development of the disease. A case in point is the public campaign to reduce the incidents of tobacco use, by increasing awareness, raising taxes and providing free tobacco cessations programs. In addition to focusing on decreasing smoking, public health organizations are raising awareness of the effects of second-hand smoke. According to the Oberg et al., “worldwide 40% of children, 33% of male non-smokers and 35% of female non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke in 2004” (2010). As a result of this exposure, in the year 2004 there were 603,000 deaths and over 10 million upper respiratory infections attributed to second-hand smoke (Oberg et al., 2010). As a result public health organizations, including WHO have identified tobacco use as an epidemic and are working with governments across the globe to implement some of the changes that have resulted in a decrease in smoking in the United States. According to Dr. Alwan, director of WHO, less than 9% of the countries across the globe have enacted smoke-free bars and restaurants—a first step in reducing tobacco use. However, with the forming of the taskforce, it is certain that we will begin to see public health work--across the globe-- to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use. In conclusion, it is not possible in such a brief paper to effectively define public health. In addition to the above-mentioned areas, public health includes our police and fire departments, local health departments, homeless shelters, vehicle emission boards,

References Avert.org (2010). History: History of AIDS up to 1986. Retrieved from: http: //www .avert.org /aids-history-86.htm Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Question and Answer: Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Retrieved from http://cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/fluvaccine.htm

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Retrieved from http://cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm Craig, R., Felix, H., Walker, J., & Phillips, M. (2010). Public Health Professionals as Policy Entrepreneurs: Arkansas's Childhood Obesity Policy Experience. American Journal of Public Health, 100(11), 2047-2052. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.183939. Leowski, J. (2009). Strengthening Partnerships for Integrated Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Retrieved from http://www.searo.who.int/en/ Section1174/Section1459.htm Oberg M., Jaakkola M., Woodward A., Peruga A., Pruss-Ustun A. (2010). Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: A retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries. The Lancet. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/so140-6736(10)619228 Pear, R. (2010, Dec. 2). Congress Approves Child Nutrition Bill. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/us/politics/03child.html

Riegelman, R.(2010). Public Health 101. Sudbury, Maryland : Jones & Barlett Learning

World Health Organization, Tobacco Free Initiative. (2008). WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: Implementing smoke-free environment. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/tobacco/mpower/2009/en/index.html

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