Monday, August 25, 2008

What is "public health?"

As a current student in the field of public health I was recently asked to define what public health means. It was a great question, and so I pose it as a point of reflection.  Surely, after 6 years of public health education and professional experience I am able to define my career field -- or can I?
My peers had some extremely profound and humorous responses to this question. My favorite was "It is when Uncle Sam passes up McDonalds and cigarettes for a salad and banana... and actually understands why." See Drea's post on for more about the BK pic above. Other perspectives on public health included promoting attainment of the highest level of health for all people, helping people enjoy a healthy and long life, and maximizing population well-being. 
My personal definition was quite broad. It sums up what public health means to me while taking into account how others have defined public health in the past: Public health is the science and art of increasing peoples' well-being and quality of life through promoting healthy lifestyles and increasing access to health services. Okay, so it took me a little more than the 60 seconds originally allotted to come up with that. Still, I think that is a pretty decent working definition.
I invite you to comment and share your own definitions of "public health" particularly as you explore your own health experience and that of those around you. 


Kelsey Woodruff said...

I never really thought about public health until hearing your professional experience, Katelyn, and that of Jake's aunt Christine. I was fascinated by your research about how certain diseases more profoundly affect the lower classes. Christine is a nurse who is consulting with a city to take health considerations into account when making a city plan.

Some may say that health is not something the government should be involved with, but I don't think there's any way for to avoid that. Policies that have to do with the way corporations operate, roads are built, or almost anything else are related to citizens' health. So maybe public health is shining light on how everything affects how people live and eat, and making sure that we don't unintentionally do harm, but instead help.

Kate M said...

Thanks for your comments Kelsey. I love how you address education and raising awareness as part of your public health definition. There has certainly been a strong movement toward understanding how "non health" issues such as poverty, education, social networks, and public policies influence health. I hope to learn a lot more about this during my program!