Public Health 101: Decoding Public Health!
We keep writing about things related to public health, talking about the parts that make up the whole. But what is the whole? What the heck is public health anyway? Public health is a very broad and diverse field, consisting of many different areas. Well-known public health initiatives include vaccination programs, smoking cessation campaigns, hand hygiene promotion, and outbreak response. But did you know public health is so much more than that?
Let’s start with some proper definitions. According to the WHO, public health is defined as “the art of science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts of society”. The CDC Foundation describes public health as “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities”. From the American Public Health Association we get “public health promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play.”
This work is achieved through a variety of means, for example: promoting healthy lifestyles; preventing illness and injury; detecting and responding to infectious diseases; monitoring and keeping track of diseases (communicable and non-communicable); investigating hazards; developing healthy policies; generating knowledge and undertaking research; developing technologies; raising public awareness; creating partnerships, programs and messaging; and ensuring good investment and resources are available.
A large part of this is considering what causes poor health and injury in the first place. We can’t create a healthy world if we don’t address health inequities and the root causes of problems. This must include the social determinants of heath. (Is there a difference between population heath and public health? It really depends who you ask. More on that later!)
Public health actually involves many different disciplines, including biology, medicine, sociology, business, geography, genetics, urban planning, health promotion, harm reduction, environmental science, and many others. All this is brought together under the umbrella of public health. So by its nature, public health is collaborative and multi-disciplinary. No function in public health happens in isolation or in a vacuum.
Public health is about people, and all the ways in which people are impacted by and connected to, our world. This can range from ensuring access to safe drinking water, to providing life-saving overdose prevention measures such as naloxone, to developing evidence for reducing driving speeds, to addressing health inequities in neighbourhood design, to distributing condoms, to responding to an infectious disease outbreak, to looking at impacts of wildfires. This list goes on. Public health is expansive and impressive. And there is a role for everyone.
At its core, public health is about building healthy populations – these could be neighbourhoods, communities, or society as a whole. And what makes up healthy populations? Healthy humans. So creating the healthy human, and connecting us all together, sets the stage for a healthy world. Public health supports and underpins that vision of a healthy world.
However public health is often working in the background, protecting and preventing, acting as a safety net. So the work by nature flies under the radar. We don’t think it should. Because it permeates everything and we should be better at shouting about our good work from the mountaintops. Our goal is to break down the ‘jargon barriers’ and create engagement around all the cool things that happen in the realm of public health. Most of all we want people to understand at a fundamental level why we need to invest in and care about public health, and our own health within it.
This makes our job both challenging and exciting because there are many opportunities and spaces in which we can work. How do we decide as a Foundation?
We take on projects that we care about, that have meaning to us personally and professionally, that we have the unique skills and connections for, where we believe we can make an impact, and that will resonate with our donors and funders. We are all about collaboration – to us, public health means working together. This is why we work so closely with BCCDC. Together we can create collective impact and a safer healthier world for everyone.
As you can see from our projects, much of our work is about making things better for humans – their health and their rights – and spreading the message that everyone has a job in public health. We are small (but mighty!) and relatively new, so we can’t take on everything and we can’t solve all the problems (yet) so we need help. We need you to help us in whatever way you can–donate, follow us on social media–and activate health by making choices and acting in ways that you feel can make a difference to the health of our society.
Individual actions have a ripple effect and can make a population-level difference. This is #ActivateHealth and this is our battle cry for British Columbia. Join us in shining a light on public health and give it the attention it deserves.