I received a couple of requests to define "public health" last week from readers Anthro and MA. As MA puts it,
Maybe ... we need a definition of "public health." I view my health as a private matter, my food choices as a private matter, and an expression of my freedom. To me, public health is not an individual concern, it's a corporate (group) concern—government, schools, companies, farms, etc. Public health includes things like properly working sewer systems, sanitation, water quality, and air quality. Marion—can we get a definition of 'public health' from you, as Anthro suggested?
My definition of public health isn't much different from mainstream definitions. But to me, public health is a critically important expression of democracy, and the antithesis of a "corporate" concern. Public health approaches promote good health for everyone, not just those who can afford it or are educated enough to make appropriate choices.
A standard definition such as the one given in Wikipedia, says that public health is about promoting health and preventing disease through societal choices and efforts. Public health deals with health at the population level, rather than at the level of individual personal responsibility, and it emphasizes prevention rather than treatment.
In my experience teaching public health nutrition, the concept of public health is sometimes hard for people to grasp, especially since populations are made up of individuals. I like to explain it this way: public health makes it easier for individuals to make healthful food choices for themselves and their families. Or to put it another way, public health makes better food choices the default.