What is public health?

Public health has been described as “the science and art of promoting health, preventing disease and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society.”
Put simply, this means that public health is about:

  • Protecting against community health risks and threats
  • Preventing illness, and 
  • Promoting health and wellbeing

Across the whole population or population groups. 

There are two things that generally distinguish public health from other health areas. Public health is about:

  1. Keeping people well
  2. Focuses on groups of people, not individuals.

Public health protects and promotes the health of populations rather than treating diseases, disorders and
disabilities in individuals. It is the fence at the top of the cliff.

Public health is about using evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies to help communities grow their own ability to address the issues that affect their population. 

Achieving public health and community health improvements

Public health improvements are achieved in population and community health when these four elements are in place:

  1. All sectors – including education, justice, employment, transport, police and local government – work together with their communities to address the wider determinants of health.
  2. Public health strategies are planned using a mix of actions related to the Treaty of Waitangi and the five components of the Ottawa Charter framework.
  3. These public health strategies include a combination of regulation, health protection and health promotion actions.
  4. They also include both public health programs and activities, and personal health and disability services for individuals and groups of individuals.



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