Public health is all around us. We see it:
- When a restaurant is inspected;
- When educational materials are distributed for the purpose of
promoting lifestyles and activities that lead to better health.
- When a child receives immunizations at the health department;
- When a case of TB is reported and an investigation is conducted
to find other people potentially exposed to the infection;
- When an important source of nutrition for a child is the WIC program;
- When education and outreach takes place to reduce the number of infant deaths;
- When an onsite sewage system is inspected;
- When a community works together to identify potential shortcomings and problems
relating to the health of its citizens and the environment they live in.
The list could go on and on. Public health is all around us and almost everyone would
say that public health activities are important and worthwhile.
Often people confuse public health with healthcare for the poor. While some health departments
do provide primary health care, public health is mostly about those activities and
programs that deal with a community or population rather than a particular individual.
Public health is most often about preventing or reducing the seriousness of illness and
injury. The outcomes benefit individuals but the focus is on communities and populations.
This lack of recognition and confusion about public health and what it does was a focus in 1988
when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Institutes of Health published The
Future of Public Health (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1988). This document
defined public health and put public health activities into three broad functional categories,
which are now commonly called core functions. The three core functions are:
- Policy Development
Based on the IOM's 1988 work and the experiences of public health practitioners of using core
functions to redefine public health, the Center's for Disease Control created a workgroup
called the Public Health Functions Steering Committee. This group developed and proposed
Ten Essential Public Health Services.
In 1999 the Missouri Department of Health published Defining Public Health for Missouri
(click here to view that report). The short introduction section to this outstanding
report discusses the core function definitions and the ten essential services as well as
other efforts to better define what public health is all about. The rest of the report is
a detailed look at public health activities, the roles of the state and local agency, and
the statutory authority and the reason for public health intervention. For more information
read Defining Public Health for Missouri.
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