Public Health

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases.

Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world.

Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or recurring through implementing educational programs, recommending policies, administering services and conducting research – in contrast to clinical professionals like doctors and nurses, who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick or injured. Public health also works to limit health disparities. A large part of public health is promoting healthcare equity, quality and accessibility.[1]

Constructing and maintaining difference

Public health [is] a field that, historically and contemporarily, emerges from and sustains social processes central to the construction of difference: the classification of populations, struggles over definitions of people and bodies as “problems,” and interventions that are simultaneously scientific, clinical, and political in nature…. The discipline has identified and defined measures of various population differences — in particular race, sex, and socioeconomic status — and legitimated the scientific practice of differentiating individuals on the basis of race, social class, and sex.

[Unlike most public health professionals, many] people of color with heart disease … directly attribute their own or others' illness to the multiple effects of racial discrimination in education, housing, employment, and everyday life. These effects range from the emotional and physical experiences of stress and suppression, to the damage to one's sense of self, to the drive to work extremely hard to overcome stereotypes and succeed in white- and male-dominated domains.

Some epidemiologists do at times invoke structural dynamics as possible sources for racial inequalities in CVD. But most often these scientists interpret the meanings of racial differences through a cultural prism in which racial disparities are attributed to cultural differences. Researchers repeatedly refer to differences of a “cultural” or “ethnic” nature, ones they perceive to be related to customary beliefs and practices of a racially or ethnically defined minority group: “their thinking process, how they make decisions,” “cultural habits of how they eat, whether they exercise, those kinds of things.”[3]

Focused on the latest crisis

Most of the best and the worst things public health, as a field of inquiry, has ever done (including water treatment and eugenics) have come from a sense of crisis. Population crisis, humanitarian crisis, epidemic crisis…. By and large the interest, the money, and the personnel are always focused on the latest crisis — right now you would have an easier time getting a public health campaign funded to fight computer-mediated distractibility than flu.

Go to google news and enter "new public health initiative" and follow the first link. Right now, its some guy from the Jersey Shore talking about oxycontin. Flu is going to kill more people than painkillers. Hell, flu is probably going to kill more people than overdoses and addiction-linked suicides combined.

Americans get really scared about flesh-eating bacteria and shark attacks and stranger rape and other statistical outliers, and they worry about being fat and drinking too much and not getting enough meat and other markers of… well, class status, really. They worry more about yelling at their kids than about their kids getting diarrhea, and only some of that is because diarrhea is usually treatable. This is of great frustration to people who worry about… oh heck, UTIs, allergies, date rape, heart disease and other actual problems that kill people, because those things don't evoke the same hand-wringing and sense of terror — who ever hears of 13k people per year dying from a UTI?[2] That's about equal to the number of murders, and flu kills over three times as many.

Related topics

1. CDC Foundation (2014). What is Public Health?. CDC Foundation Home Page. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from
2. R. Monina Klevens et al. (2007). Estimating Health Care-Associated Infections and Deaths in U.S. Hospitals, 2002. Public Health Reports 122:160-166. Retrieved September 23, 2014 from
3. Janet K. Shim (2010). The Stratified Biomedicalization of Heart Disease: Expert and Lay Perspectives on Racial and Class Inequality. In Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S. Adele E. Clarke et al., eds. Durham, Duke University Press, 218-241
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