Why Public Health?

Why is Public Health important?  

Most of the gains in lifespan for individuals living in the U.S. and elsewhere over the past 100 years have been due to public health programs, not improved health care.  Here’s some examples: 

  • Since 1900, the average lifespan of persons in the United States has lengthened by greater than 30 years; 25 years of this gain are attributable to advances in public health (Bunker JP, Frazier HS, Mosteller F. Improving health: measuring effects of medical care. Milbank Quarterly 1994;72:225-58).
  • Since 1972, death rates for coronary heart disease have decreased 51% due in large part to public health programs (The sixth report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:2413-46).

Public health programs are responsible for improving the quality of our water and air; they remove toxins from the environment and ensure that our food supply is kept free of contaminants; and they educate us about health risks associated with lifestyle issues such as poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and substance abuse. 

A growing area of responsibility for public health is emergency management and biopreparedness.  Public health agencies are responsible for developing plans and mobilizing resources to respond to natural disasters and disease epidemics.  They also work with law enforcement and public safety to protect us from man-made catastrophes such as terrorist attacks.

Increasingly, public health agencies are also becoming involved in developing sustainable, green technologies and working with urban planners to create community designs that increase safety and promote healthy living.

In short, public health impacts many different areas of life with the goal of improving the health of everyone. 


Video Sources

  • Association of Schools of Public Health, 2009
  • American Public Health Association, 2009
  • Alliance to Make US Healthiest, 2009