B. Public Health

V. Key Issues: Population Health >> B. Public Health (last update 3.13.16)

Also see Public Health Surveillance Programs

Topics in Public Health

Health Planning and Development

Personal Health (see Public Medical Programs)


Community-oriented Primary Care

Health Promotion and Behavior

Public Health Management

Public Health Ethics and Policy


  • World Health OrganizationPublic health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases.
  • Others propose a more restrictive focus: David Boaz at Cato Institute argues that public health “once referred to the project of securing health benefits that were public: clean water, improved sanitation, and the control of epidemics through treatment, quarantine, and immunization…Those were legitimate public health issues because they involved consumption of a collective good (air or water) and/or the communication of disease to parties who had not consented to put themselves at risk. It is difficult for individuals to protect themselves against illnesses found in air, water, or food. A breeding ground for disease-carrying insects poses a risk to entire communities.”
    • In this view, problems such as smoking (except as it relates to secondhand smoke) or obesity should not be viewed as public health problems since they are the result of personal health decisions that do not affect other people.
    • He further argues “the idea that our personal choices impose costs on government, through semi-socialized medicine and similar programs, has no good stopping point. If obesity is the government’s business, then so are smoking, salt intake, motorcycle riding, insufficient sleep, cooking all the nutrients out of vegetables, and an endless stream of potentially sub-optimal decisions.”


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  • Scott Burris, JD and Alex Wagenaar, PhD. Public Health Law Research: Theory & Methods. Almost every law or regulation affects the public’s health — from an environmental or safety regulation, to the whole swath of economic, education and social policy. This new volume describes the many ways laws can affect health. Written by the nation’s foremost public health law researchers, the chapters present: a) integrated theory drawn from numerous disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences; b) specific mechanisms of legal effect, and from there, guidelines for collecting and coding empirical datasets of statutory and case law needed for scientific evaluation of laws’ effects on health; c) optimal research designs for randomized trials and natural experiments for public health law evaluation, and methods for qualitative and cost-benefit studies of law.

Articles/Papers Grey Literature

  • Public Health Law Research Program. Methods Guides are created by a leading public health law researcher from the PHLR Methods Core group, and are designed to help public health professionals understand how to conduct research in law, and help legal professionals understand scientific methods. Methods Guides are organized by their applicability to the stages of a project, from the development of the research questions and design of the study, through the selection of measures and collection of data, to analysis and dissemination. See Public Health Law Research Methods for complete listing of guides.
  • Public Health Law Research Program.  Defining an Emerging Field: Public Health Law Research. In a paper published in the Milbank Quarterly, a multidisciplinary journal of population health and health policy, Temple University law professor Scott C. Burris and colleagues formally introduce the field as a new way of looking at the relationship between law and health.
  • Public Health Law Research Program. What is Public Health Law Research? Scott Burris, J.D., director of the center, explains in this podcast what public health law research is, and what kinds of research PHLR supports.

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