How Science Impacts Public Health Issues

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson is going to go over the ways by which science has impacted public health issues in areas of nutrition, disease, and medical technologies. You'll learn with several concrete examples how this is the case.

Science & Public Health Issues

Did you ever stop to think where the warning labels on cigarette packs came from? Sure, the government mandated their placement because smoking is a public health concern. That's really obvious now. But lawmakers didn't pull that warning out of thin air. The hard data that backs up the warning came from science!

In this lesson, we're going to explore how science has impacted public health issues.


Bob is an 85-year-old man who used to smoke a lot back when he was younger. He says that he had no idea, way back in the day, that smoking was bad for you. Everyone smoked! Teachers smoked inside of schools. Lawmakers smoked. Even doctors smoked! So, Bob naturally started to smoke as well. Smoking was not seen as a health hazard in the same sense as it is today.

Although by the 1940s it was becoming evident to many scientists that there was a strong link between lung cancer and smoking, the cigarette industry did everything it could to dispute and disprove these claims, pushing back any significant public health policy on the issue for about two decades.

But by the 1960s, it was becoming painfully apparent, thanks to even more robust scientific research in the field, that smoking was hazardous to a person's health. This led the U.S. government to pass what is known as the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, the first in a series of laws that, in the end, put warning labels on cigarette packages.

Warning from the Surgeon General.
Warning from the Surgeon General.

After Bob saw one of these back in 1965, he stopped smoking.


Science has also taught us a thing or two about nutrition. For instance, we now know that obesity is more than just the obvious, that someone is overweight. There's a lot more to it. We know that obesity predisposes to arthritis, partly as a result of the excess weight the body has to carry. We also know it increases the chances of heart disease, diabetes, and much more. We even know that body fat isn't just fat, it's part of living tissue that results in inflammatory damage to the body. All of this means that obesity hurts not only individuals but also society at large due to the burden consequent healthcare costs place on the nation.

As a result, public policy has shifted to address the obesity epidemic facing the United States. Programs like The National School Lunch Program try to deliver healthier foods for schoolkids. Nutritional guides, such as the USDA's My Plate, allow people to better assess what they should eat. Even laws such as those that target unhealthy foods like sodas have been passed all in an effort to improve people's nutrition through public policy.

Medical Technology

Of course, we can't forget the obvious intersection between science and public health issues. Medical technologies, like vaccines, have been a major part of public health policy and discussion for a long time. Science and scientists have discovered numerous extremely important and lifesaving vaccines for everything ranging from polio to smallpox. Even that yearly flu-shot, although not lifesaving for most people, is still extremely important. While the flu won't kill most people, it can put them out of action for a long time. This means lost productivity and that, in turn, is a downer for the U.S. economy.

Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.
Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine.

This is why vaccines are often promoted as a matter of public health. It's done to save lives and to keep a nation moving forward at a good clip, something that can only happen if people are healthy! Not to mention, if too few people are vaccinated for one disease or another, the disease can still spread rapidly to people who haven't been protected by the vaccine. So, the more people that are vaccinated, the stronger the entire nation!

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