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What is Public Health?

Public health can be found in many aspects of your daily life. When you first wake up in the morning, you may use the bathroom. You flush the toilet and use your city's sanitation system. Sanitation is a public health accomplishment. When you finish using the bathroom, you wash your hands. You do this because you were educated to do so through public health education efforts. Those efforts taught you that washing your hands after using the bathroom helps to reduce the spread of disease. Then, you brush your teeth. The water you use may be fluoridated, as well as your toothpaste, another public health effort. As your pull your milk out of the refrigerator, you notice that it is has a "use by" date on it. That is another public health guideline to keep your food fresh and safe. While eating your breakfast, you sit and read the food label on the box. The food label is another public health effort that lets consumers know what is in their food.

After breakfast, you get in your car and take your child to school. You each put on your seat belts because of public health campaigns designed to protect the health and safety of vehicle drivers and passengers. Your child attends school where their lunch programs are designed by public health goals. He/she also was required to receive immunizations prior to attending school. This is another public health measure designed to help reduce and/or eradicate disease in the population. At work, you enjoy a smoke-free workplace thanks to public health actions to reduce second-hand smoke in public places. You also expect a certain degree of health and safety at work thanks to public health initiatives. You have only just started your day, and already public health has greatly impacted your life.

To make something very complex very simple, public health addresses the health of the population as a whole. Public health focuses primarily on disease prevention and promotion of healthy lifestyles of communities, whereas traditional Western medicine focuses on the health of the individual. The 10 essential functions of  Public Health include ( 

1. Monitoring health status.
2. Diagnosing and investigating health problems and diseases.
3. Informing, educating and empowering people about health.
4. Mobilizing community partnerships.
5. Developing policies and plans about health
6. Enforcing laws and regulations to protect health.
7. Linking people to necessary health services. 
8. Ensuring a competent health care workforce.
9. Evaluating personal and public health programs and services. 
10. Research. 

In order to complete all of the essential functions listed above, public health must be involved in many areas of healthcare delivery and health safety. Public health touches almost every aspect of health care delivery, and even areas that may not seem like they are related to healthcare. For example, public health organizations review quality metrics at hospitals, nursing homes, and home care organizations. What some people may not know, is that public health departments also licenses restaurant workers and hair stylists. Moreover, public health agencies inspect those organizations to ensure that food is safely handled and delivered and materials are kept safe and clean. Public health also addresses the needs of the food insecure through programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Public health organizations are also strong advocates for issues affecting the public's health. The American Public Health Association's ( 2016 advocacy priorities include budgeting for public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the federal nutrition assistance program (including school lunches), climate change, protecting the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), and preventing gun violence.  


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