What Is Public Health?

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a condition of “complete physical, mental and emotional well-being” and not just the absence of illness and infirmity. A wide variety of definitions are used for purposes ranging from adding or subtracting a letter to define the concept. According to one dictionary, health is “the condition of being able to do things with minimal effort or discomfort.” The dictionary also lists “healthful” as one of the definitions, indicating that it involves enjoyment, without limitations, of the resources available to an individual. In addition, another dictionary defines health as “being sound, complete, and active.”

The medical community uses health science in many ways to keep people healthy. For example, the public health system seeks to prevent diseases before they occur, while public health interventions like smoking cessation and education about disease risk and prevention now reduce the number of deaths from heart diseases, cancers, and other life threatening diseases. The field of public health incorporates a large amount of research into its effort to better understand and prevent diseases. Medical researchers, educators, public health officials, and doctors work together to promote good health and to ensure that the health of the public is protected against both major threats to public health: increasing obesity and decreasing nutrition.

With the increasing complexity of life, the definition of health has become more diverse. Some still consider the term to be synonymous with physical illness. However, this view may be narrowing as the public becomes more educated about the benefits of healthy living, public health care, and the overall benefits of healthy lifestyle choices. As defined by the World Health Organization, health science aims to promote quality of life through policies that improve the health of the nation as a whole, by improving the conditions of the most vulnerable groups in society, and by preventing and reducing the severity and spread of chronic diseases. By maintaining a standard of healthy living and by ensuring access to quality health services, public health efforts contribute to these goals.