DefinitionDuring the global COVID-19 pandemic, a term you’ve probably heard quite a bit is "public health.” Public health encompasses any aspect of the health of a specific population, be it a neighborhood, county, state, country or an even larger group. In most places, public health includes far more than just physical health or disease, but covers psychological and emotional health as well. So for a short phrase, it covers a lot of territory. And public health is most commonly used to describe collective efforts to reduce disease and death, extend lifespans, and improve quality of life. These efforts involve government laws and policies, private institutions and investments, healthcare companies and facilities, education, advocacy, nonprofits, community groups, and more.
Public health campaigns
Public awareness and establishing community norms are an important and visible component of public health. During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the coordinated push to encourage or mandate the wearing of face coverings is perhaps the most prominent example. Other initiatives include encouraging people to wash their hands regularly, supporting breastfeeding, encouraging vaccinations, destigmatizing birth control, or highlighting the importance of mental health. Some of the largest public health campaigns in the U.S. were the efforts to encourage the use of seat belts and to reduce smoking and tobacco use .
Governmental organizations involved in public healthGovernments play a critical role in shaping public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) strives to establish standards and measure outcomes on a global level. In the United States, key agencies include:
- The National Institute of Health (NIH)
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
These national agencies in turn work with health departments at the state level, as each U.S. state has an agency that coordinates statewide public health programs.