What is the Relationship Between Public Health and Health Policy?

Although public health and health policy are separate concepts, they work together to achieve similar goals: safeguarding and improving the well-being of individuals and communities. Graduates of the Eastern Washington University (EWU) online Master of Public Health (MPH) – General program benefit from gaining skills and expertise in both areas.

The curriculum includes a Health Policy and Law course that examines current federal and state policies, like Medicare and Medicaid, on the U.S. healthcare system. It also explores the factors necessary for successful policy development, such as engaging community partners and the media. The Leadership, Ethics, and Professionalism in Public Health course discusses the traits and characteristics that every public health professional needs.

What is Public Health?

According to the American Public Health Association, public health uses science-based, evidence-backed efforts to help individuals and communities live safer and healthier lives. It may include disease control and prevention, substance abuse programs, school nutrition programs, gun violence prevention, child abuse and neglect prevention and more.

Since public health seeks to improve every aspect of daily life — from school and work to housing and community safety — the professionals needed in this realm vary greatly and may include:

  • Public health educators
  • Contact tracers
  • Community health advisers
  • Occupational health and safety professionals
  • Epidemiologists
  • Biostatisticians

What is Health Policy?

Health policy involves laws, strategies and regulations to promote health and prevent disease. According to The Sycamore Institute, it can include earmarking funds and establishing guidelines for public goods and natural resources, like maintaining roads and protecting air and water quality. Health policy may also create mandates in the interest of public health — such as seat belt and car seat requirements — and provide monetary support to individuals and families to obtain food, housing, education and transportation.

Why is Public Health Important?

Public health is essential for ensuring the well-being of individuals and society. By preventing diseases, promoting health equity and developing policies and strategies addressing social determinants of health, public health professionals can help people and communities thrive. Public health programs and policies save lives and empower people with the knowledge and tools to make healthier choices for themselves and their families.

What Are Public Health Policy Examples?

Public health policies encompass a wide range of initiatives and regulations, such as the following:

  • Vaccinations. Childhood vaccination schedules define an ideal timeline for immunizations to prevent the spreading of diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and polio. Adult vaccination schedules aim to reduce and avoid illness as well. Public health professionals offer input on these schedules to maximize the health of individuals across the lifespan.
  • Nutrition and food safety. These policies establish criteria for food manufacturers to follow, such as how they produce, label and market food products. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains primary oversight, state and local public health departments are integral in maintaining safe food distribution to residents.
  • Environmental protection. Policies related to air and water quality, waste management and hazardous materials protect public health by reducing exposure to environmental hazards and protecting existing natural resources.
  • Tobacco use. Public health professionals develop initiatives to reduce tobacco use and its associated health risks, including advocating for higher tobacco taxes and smoking bans in public places and group housing.
  • Occupational health and safety. Workplace safety standards can protect workers from harmful chemicals and unsafe working conditions.
  • Infectious disease control. Public health professionals are integral to infectious disease surveillance, reporting and response.

Public health and health policy are distinct entities, but they rely on each other to achieve greater individual and community wellness. Public health efforts inform and drive health policy, while health policy provides the necessary structure and resources for these initiatives to thrive. This collaboration is essential in addressing today’s public health challenges and promoting well-being.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Public Health – General program.

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