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What is Public Health?

Public health made global headlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But how exactly do we define it?

Here's a good way to describe the essence of public health.

In the medical field, clinicians treat diseases and injuries one patient at a time. In public health, researchers, practitioners, and educators prevent disease and injury at the community and population level. We identify the causes of disease and disability, and we implement large-scale solutions.

For example:

  • Instead of treating a gunshot wound, we work to identify the causes of gun violence and develop interventions to prevent it.
  • Instead of treating premature or low birth-weight babies, we investigate the factors at work and we develop programs to keep babies healthy.
  • Instead of prescribing medication for high blood pressure, we examine the links among obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—and we use data to influence policy aimed at reducing all three conditions.

Today, public health encompasses areas as wide-ranging as epigenetics, chronic disease, the science of aging, mental health, disaster response, refugee health, injury prevention, and tobacco control. Microbiologists work to find vaccines while behavioral scientists research ways to change behaviors. Epidemiologists identify trends in health and illness, looking for links, causes, and interventions in areas such as infant mortality and infectious diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis. Environmental health scientists work to discover which foods prevent cancer, while health policy analysts evaluate health insurance programs and make recommendations. 

Recent projects here at the Bloomberg School include:

  • Understanding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and working to control its spread
  • Identifying ways to curb bullying in schools
  • Delivering vitamin A to newborns in developing nations
  • Uncovering correlations between kidney function and heart disease
  • Examining secondhand tobacco smoke levels and exposure
  • Exploring environmental and genetic factors in autism
  • Investigating the consequences of antibiotic use in industrial agriculture
  • Developing emergency preparedness plans
  • Improving technologies that make clean and safe drinking water
  • Promoting policies and sustainable practices that protect the global environment
  • Using evidence to strengthen family planning, and reproductive health programs and policies
  • Quantifying the links between human rights abrogation and poor health

Visit the Bloomberg School's 10 departments and 80+ centers and institutes to learn how each is contributing to global public health.