What Does Public Health Do

Core public health activities lay the groundwork for healthy communities. They protect us from diseases and injury we cannot prevent alone. They also help us change behaviors which could cause us harm.

These core activities do not happen in doctors' offices. They provide us with a healthy community to keep us out of doctors' offices.

Prevents epidemics

In 1994, students at Rutgers University in New Jersey began coming down with measles, which can be fatal in adults. The public health system declared a "measles emergency", and with the cooperation of the school, required that all people at the school who are at risk for measles receive free vaccinations, thus preventing a major epidemic.

Protects the environment, workplaces, housing, food, and water

In 1993, officials at the local health department in Milwaukee observed a dramatic increase in the cases of gastrointestinal illnesses. They quickly identified the water system as the source of bacteria, and declared a water emergency until the system could be repaired and declared safe.

Promotes healthy behavior

As a result of nationwide health campaigns by public and private organizations, the number of people who smoke has decreased 50% over the past 30 years. The number of people with high cholesterol has declined by one third. Healthy eating and reducing smoking are two behaviors that will prevent illness, such as heart disease, and save billions of dollars.

Monitors the health of the population

By keeping accurate health statistics, this nation has identified major disparities in the rates of infant deaths in white versus African-American populations. In cooperation with states and communities, the federal government initiated the Healthy Start program to reduce infant mortality by half in communities with the worst records of infant deaths.

Mobilizes communities for action

Forty-four states have developed statewide coalitions to reduce use and availability of tobacco products. The coalitions are active at the local level to enact regulations preventing minors from smoking and to reduce others' exposure to second-hand smoke, which can cause asthma and emphysema.

Responds to disasters

In spite of flooding in the Midwest in 1993, which devastated the water system of the entire region, in Iowa, the public health system was able to provide public education and assistance so that no cases of waterborne diseases were reported.

Assures that medical services are high quality and necessary

Public health agencies regulate mammography and x-ray equipment and inspect health care facilities to ensure that the public is not exposed to radiation risks and unsafe conditions of incompetent technicians.

Trains specialists in investigating and preventing diseases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention trains health professionals in disease investigation and stations them in states. When the 1993 Hantavirus epidemic broke out in, trained investigators pinpointed the source, identified preventive health measures, and conducted an education campaign to reduce public exposure to rodents carrying the illness.

Develops policies to promote health

The state of South Carolina set the objective to immunize 80% of its children by the age of two. In addition to conducting campaigns to increase doctors' and nurses' participation in the program, the state passed a law requiring that children entering day care centers be appropriately immunized.

Last Revised: June 10, 2020