What is Public Health? - Definition & Principles

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  • 0:01 What Is Public Health?
  • 0:39 Public Health & the…
  • 1:53 Public Health Sanitation
  • 3:21 Preventative Medicine
  • 4:02 Education
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever wondered how you can help improve the health of the entire community? In this lesson, you will learn about public health. As opposed to helping people one-by-one, public health policies and practices help large numbers of people become healthier.

What is Public Health?

When you go to a doctor's office, the doctor is there one-on-one with you. The doctor tries to figure out what's wrong with you and how best to deal with it. This is healthcare on a personal level. But doctors and many other professionals also try to protect and improve the health of entire communities, not just individuals. This is known as public health, the science of improving and protecting the health of entire communities by applying the principles of education, preventative medicine, control and monitoring of environmental dangers, and proper sanitation.

Public Health and the Environment

We live in varied environments, but regardless of which environment we live in, my community and your community need a healthy ecosystem to support a healthy population. By monitoring and controlling how an ecosystem is affected by everything from human to industrial waste, we can control how public health is impacted. In other words, if we keep our environment healthy, we are more likely to be healthy as well. For example, individuals who live in environments where the air, water, or land are negatively affected by pollutants are more likely to suffer from:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Premature death

A doctor, on a one-on-one basis, can only do so much to help with this. A doctor can treat your asthma or your cancer, but he or she cannot really prevent you from getting it in the first place. This is where public health policies take over in order to impact the entire community's health. Whether it's banning the building of a noxious waste incinerator near a kindergarten school or promoting the re-planting of an entire forest, such public policies aim to directly improve the environments we live in so that our health improves as well.

Public Health: Sanitation

But what else can we do, using public health principles, in order to improve the health of an entire community? Let's go back to our definition to answer this question. Public health is the science of improving and protecting the health of entire communities by applying the principles of education, preventative medicine, control and monitoring of environmental dangers, and proper sanitation.

Our definition of public health mentions that we use principles of sanitation. So, let's see what that means. Back in ancient and medieval times, people could dive right into vast swaths of sewage and garbage lying on the streets near their homes. Forget about the horrid smell, it was unsanitary! Why? Because it would attract animals and insects that could then pass on diseases to humans. Sanitation is a word that refers to the use of measures that promote health and prevent disease. This means making sure people live away from human and animal waste as well as carcasses of dead animals. It also means providing clean water.

Over time, sanitation improved, and we began to control how sewage, wastewater, and even household chemical hazards could be stored and disposed of. Public and community health improved because diseases, such as the plague, could be stopped quickly or prevented! Also, the smell around our homes improved too! This way we killed two birds with one stone and, of course, disposed of their carcasses properly to prevent any diseases from spreading!

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