Public health can be defined as the science of improving and protecting individuals and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases. The foundation of our health begins long before we see doctors or enter the healthcare system for treatment.
Our health status is not just a product of our genetic makeup or how often we visit the doctor, but is influenced by socioeconomic, environmental, and educational factors along with issues like access to quality healthcare, food security and networks of social support.
Public health investments are believed to have a significant return on investment (ROI). The ROI for public health interventions can be measured in lives saved, diseases and injuries prevented or mitigated, healthcare costs avoided, and improvement in the quality of life.
See below for more information on several different interventions or topic areas that fall under the umbrella of public health.
Community Infrastructure that supports Health
The built environment is what is around us as we go about our daily lives. Certain neighborhoods have environments that are more conducive to health living; they have safe, outdoor spaces to exercise, areas for kids to play, and allow community members to walk and not have to depend as much on a car. Interventions to affect population health through improvements in the built environment could include targeted urban planning to create green spaces and more walkable mixed residential and commercial areas. Urban planning that supports bus routes and other public transportation options that help move people, in an affordable way, to areas where jobs are located, is another important issue. Tax incentives could be designed to bring grocery stores and healthy food options to areas that might otherwise not have them
Public Prevention Program
Prevention is a fundamental element of public health. Prevention includes traditionally thought of public health activities like vaccinations, but also includes broad initiatives to improve the health through interventions designed to prevent chronic diseases. Sin taxes on sugary beverages or on cigarettes could form part of a prevention program to keep people healthier by making unhealthy choices less attractive financially.
Regulation can be used to improve public health in several ways. Regulations have created smoke-free areas in offices, restaurants, and public spaces and have made our food and water safer. Regulations as a way to affect public and population health may be a more realistic option in some states than in others.
Sin taxes are financial incentives designed to discourage unhealthy behaviors like smoking, the consumption of sugary beverages, and excessive drinking. By taxing cigarettes, for example, policymakers hope to discourage an unhealthy behavior by making it more expensive. Since smoking adds to society’s disease burden and increases healthcare costs for everyone, this is a way to raise revenue for these added healthcare costs. The revenue these taxes can produce can be earmarked for public health initiatives.