Public health is a broad term that applies to all entities and their work to improve the health of a group of people. Public health focuses on improving the overall health of the group by improving the health of the individuals by various means, including disease prevention, disease screening, disease treatment, as well as monitoring and modifying the environmental, social, economic, and political environment to improve the health of the public.
Public health work includes preventing injuries and educating the population about habits that lead to poor health such as smoking, inactivity, unhealthy alcohol consumption, workplace injuries, seatbelt safety, radon safety, food safety, as well as give a scientific-based solution to health problems. Examples of the many fields with workers that make up public health include restaurant inspectors, health educators, scientists and researchers, nutritionists, community planners, social workers, epidemiologists, outbreak investigators, public health physicians, public health nurses, occupational health and safety professions, public policymakers, and sanitarians (American Public Health Association 2017).
Ten Essential Functions of Public Health
Monitor Health Status
Diagnose and Investigate
Inform, Educate, and Empower
Mobilize Community Partnerships
Develop Policies and Plans
Enforce Laws and Regulations
Link People to Needed Services/Assure Care
Assure a Competent Workforce
Evaluate Health Services
Common public health issues and concerns include environmental quality (clean air, water, and food), sanitation, climate change, health equity, health reform, access to healthcare, tobacco use and exposure, mental health, injury and violence, physical activity, nutrition, obesity, and vaccination.
Effects of climate change are evident in water quality, air quality, agriculture, sanitation, and habitable spaces, to name a few. It is also evident in tribal health, vulnerable populations, and mental wellness. The public health community plays a critical role in educating the mass population about the effects of climate change on health through efforts that include clean and renewable energy and initiatives. These include climate justice and partnerships that increase awareness through climate and health meetings at the local, state, national, and international levels, such as the “the Paris Agreement.”
Many proponents of climate change help provide education on the effects of climate change seen in the most vulnerable populations made up of the poor, communities of color, young children, and individuals with chronic illness as the elderly (American Public Health Association 2017).
Public health creates and improves environmental health, justice, and awareness to help maintain the healthiest communities and nations. Certain models are used to advance the field of environmental health through the following initiatives:
American Public Health Association’s Environmental Portfolio is comprised of three points:
Health Community Design
Partnerships and Systems
The above portfolio helps public health officials bring national attention to environmental health issues. It helps promote sound policies that help protect the health, well-being, and quality of life of the public in at-risk and affected communities.
Clean Water and Sanitation
Access to clean water remains unobtainable for millions globally. The single largest impact on human health quality in history has been the increasing quality and access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Much of clean water comes from both water purification systems and sanitation and waste management systems to prevent clean water sources from becoming contaminated. Public health took a large step forward in 1854 when Dr. John Snow discovered a cholera outbreak near Broad Street in London was due to the local water pump being contaminated by cholera, not by the prevailing theory of miasma circulating at that time. To this day, clean water is pivotal to public health.
Obesity and Nutrition
In developed nations, obesity and nutrition now account for over half of the population's morbidity and mortality. Obesity and over-nutrition or inappropriate nutrition contribute to diseases including diabetes, hypertension, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents/strokes, renal failure, arthritis, some cancers, sleep apnea, etc. On the other end, over 2 billion individuals globally suffer from malnutrition with diseases including kwashiorkor, marasmus, scurvy, rickets, osteoporosis, beriberi, pellagra, anemia, goiter, etc. Public health works on both decreasing obesity and the host of diseases it brings, as well as improving malnutrition through education, access, and modifications to the political, socioeconomic environment in which people live. Malnutrition is improved not only by obtaining sources and channels to get the necessary nutrition to the affected populations but also by addressing the underlying geopolitical, social environment that contributes to or allows the malnutrition to occur.
Gun violence is the leading cause of premature death in the United States, resulting in about 30,000 deaths and 60,000 injuries per year. Gun violence is complex. Therefore, it is deeply rooted in American culture, requiring a public health approach to ensure that families and communities remain safe (American Public Health Association, 2017). The National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) is a unique source of information and reports on suicide, homicide, unintentional fatal shootings, and law enforcement-related fatalities. The NVDRS, started by the CDC in 2002 with data from six States and currently tracks data from forty states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, also reports on who the victims are and when, where, and how they were injured (American Public Health Association, 2017). The NVDRS is now considered the only state-based active surveillance system that merges, standardizes, and anonymizes data from multiple sources to a detailed picture of violent death in the United States of America. It is considered a valuable asset and partner to Public Health to expand and track data related violence in all fifty states, thereby making it an asset to policy-makers, health authorities, law enforcement agencies, researchers, and advocacy groups.
The efforts to reframing public health work to achieve better health through equity are at the core of Health People 2020, the United States of America's health objectives for the current decade that defines equity as the attainment of the highest level of health for all people (American Public Health Association, 2017). Health equity achievement involves promoting and valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts. This will enable increased efforts to avoid inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and eliminate health and health care disparities. To eliminate inequity, public health, in partnership with stakeholders both in the government and private sector, dedicate resources to serve the most vulnerable, thereby bringing life-saving care to communities that would have otherwise gone without needed health care services (American Public Health Association, 2017).
This is at the center of the debate on navigating and providing health care coverage and insurance for most Americans. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the nation’s health reform law enacted in March 2010 to reform both private and public health insurance systems. About 20 million Americans are estimated to be served and covered by the ACA, increasing benefits and lower costs for consumers and providing new public health funding.
Tobacco Use and Exposure
The American Public Health Association, in partnership with stakeholders, has championed initiatives to help Americans live tobacco-free. This initiative includes laws that create smoke-free workplaces with policies that increase smokers' efforts to quit (American Association of Public Health, 2017). Tobacco is a preventable killer, and tobacco exposure is proportionally associated with other health disparities in teens. About 90% of cigarette smokers started smoking before age 18, and 99% tried smoking before age 26 (CDC, 2017). More than 3200 youth aged 18 years or younger smoke their first cigarette each day in the United States. An additional 2100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers. The flavoring in tobacco products that makes smoking appealing to young adults perhaps influences this. Seventy-three percent of high school students and 56% of middle school students reported using a flavored tobacco product in 2014 (CDC, 2017).
Vaccinations are created to help boost the immune system. Vaccinations have significantly reduced perinatal, infant, and childhood deaths since becoming widespread. Vaccinations have globally eradicated some diseases (smallpox) while significantly limiting others in certain countries (tuberculosis, Haemophilus influenzae type B meningitis, varicella-zoster virus, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, diphtheria). Vaccines also decrease the global burden of disease for all populations (influenza, varicella-zoster, hepatitis A, human papillomavirus, rotavirus). Most vaccines contain weakened or killed microorganism that causes the human body to increase its immunity to certain diseases. Some vaccines contain a live, weakened version of the disease-causing agent, while others contain a killed detoxified version of the agent it is a target to protect against. Routes of administration included injection, oral, or nasal spray. Many vaccines are given in multiple doses over time. In most cases, booster shots are administered to maintain the body’s immunity against diseases of interest (American Association of Public Health, 2017).
Members of the interprofessional healthcare team need to view their duties in the larger context of public health, in addition to their direct patient responsibilities and team interactions. Adopting this "big picture" approach can contribute to overall societal healthcare delivery, illuminate individual roles in the big picture, and optimize patient care and outcomes. Population-based studies continue to contribute to the body of knowledge needed to adjust public health policy. All providers need to remain current on the latest developments, both in terms of research and legal and administrative changes in the community, region, or even on a national level. [Level 5]
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