What is Public Health? - General Introduction
Many of the major improvements in the health of American people have been accomplished through public health measures. Control of epidemics, safe food, water, and maternal and child health services are only a few of the public health achievements that have prevented countless deaths and improved the quality of American life. (The Future of Public Health, Institute of Medicine, 1988)
Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to define public health. In 1988, the Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health, through the Institute of Medicine, culminated their work with a report, The Future of Public Health. This report contains the following definition: Public Health is what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. (The Future of Public Health, Institute of Medicine, 1988)
Much earlier, public health leader C.E.A. Winslow began his definition of public health in this fashion: the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health and efficiency through organized community effort. (Winslow CEA. The untitled field of public health. Mod Med. 920;2:183-191)
Public health is a complex but essential system and the local board of health is an integral player. This section will lay some ground work for better understanding the public health system.