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What is public health?

Public health promotes and protects the health of all people and their communities.

This science-based, evidence-backed field strives to give everyone a safe place to live, learn, work and play.

Why is public health important?

Public health improves our quality of life, helps children thrive, reduces human suffering and saves money.

Every day, the public health field is working – often behind the scenes – to prevent hazards and keep people healthy. For example, public health is responsible for:

  • Tracking disease outbreaks and vaccinating communities to avoid the spread of disease.
  • Setting safety standards to protect workers.
  • Developing school nutrition programs to ensure kids have access to healthy food.
  • Advocating for laws to keep people safe, including smoke-free indoor air and seatbelts.
  • Working to prevent gun violence.
  • Addressing the impact of climate change on our health.
  • Declaring racism as a public health crisis.

Sign up for APHA’s newsletters to stay informed on the latest in public health.

Who are public health professionals?

Public health work spans government, business and nonprofit sectors. Here are some examples of public health professionals:

Restaurant inspectors Health educators 
Community health workers Scientists and researchers 
Nutritionists Community planners
Social workers Epidemiologists 
Public health physicians and nurses Occupational health and safety professionals 
Policymakers Sanitarians 
First responders Biostatisticians

What’s the difference between health care and public health?

The health care industry treats people who are sick, while public health aims to prevent people from getting sick or injured in the first place.

Public health also focuses on entire populations, while health care focuses on individual patients.

How does the American Public Health Association advance public health?

APHA champions the health of all people and all communities. We strengthen the public health profession. We speak out for public health issues and policies backed by science.

We are the only organization that combines more than 150-years’ perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health.

APHA publishes the American Journal of Public Health and The Nation’s Health newspaper. At our Annual Meeting and Expo, thousands of people share the latest public health research.

We lead public awareness campaigns such as Get Ready and National Public Health Week. We work closely with our affiliates to improve health at the state and local level.

Together, we are creating the healthiest nation. Explore the topics and issues APHA is currently working on.

How can I get involved in APHA?

  • Become a member and join more than 25,000 public health professionals who are committed to building a healthier nation in one generation.
  • Speak out for public health and shape the national debate on critical policy issues.
  • Follow APHA on social media and subscribe to our newsletters to stay connected.
  • Donate to APHA to invest in our mission with a tax-deductible contribution.

Learn more about public health from APHA members in this video: