University of Sourthern California


Prevention and Public Health: The Connection

An effective and robust public health system can improve the health and well being of people across the nation. While public health is complex, prevention has played an increasingly important role in building effective policies in recent years. That’s why, as you work toward your Online Master of Public Health degree, it is such an important concept to grasp.

Learn why prevention is so important for addressing epidemics and improving the health of communities, and find out how a prevention-focused approach can shape the future of public health.

How Prevention Factors Into the Current State of Health Care

Vaccines are important tools for preventive medicine.

In the United States, health care practitioners, public health officials, and U.S. government agencies have recognized the importance of prevention to the public health for decades. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) established the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program in 1984 to examine the links between the two.

This initiative formed a network of over two dozen academic research centers that continue to have a substantial impact on public health. The program currently operates on five-year cycles, providing funding opportunities for research projects that align with the CDC's public health priorities. As the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports, current priorities include the CDC's National Prevention Strategy, the CDC's Healthy People 2020 program, community health issues like obesity and teen pregnancy, and epidemiology and surveillance.

The links between public health and prevention go much further than the influential PRC Program, however. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) established the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) to fund research that focuses on prevention for the benefit of public health. Since 2010, the PPHF has supported research for such wide-ranging programs as Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity, Immunization, Community Transformation, Tobacco Use Prevention, and Cancer Prevention and Control.

The continued support for and influence of these major programs indicate the importance of prevention in the nation's current health care system. The ACA's requirement for insurance companies to cover preventive care also emphasizes the importance of proactive health care for people across the nation.

Prevention Can Lessen the Impact of Epidemics

Disease outbreaks and epidemics can affect the health of the nation in a relatively short amount of time. Epidemics can also place substantial strain on the nation's health care system, as affected patients fill hospitals to capacity and utilize most available health care resources.

As a result, programs like the PPHF have long prioritized funding epidemiology research. For instance, the program currently funds research related to enhancing the ability of public health organizations at all levels to detect and address infectious diseases and other epidemics that affect public health.

Prevention doesn't end with research, though. Public health officials take responsibility for disseminating research and information to both health care providers and the general public in order to put research into action. In fact, some public health officials work with national organizations like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), which supports public health initiatives in practices across the nation. The AAFP advocates for widespread immunizations to improve the health of populations everywhere, and the organization also promotes vaccination among health care professionals to help provide additional protection from epidemics.

Preventive Measures Can Affect the Health of Communities

Community health research may not have as immediate an effect as epidemic data does. However, that doesn't lessen the importance of understanding how prevention can improve the health of various populations.

As the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reports, the PRCs have long led the way in terms of identifying chronic conditions in distinct populations and researching the effects of prevention. For instance, they research how African American, Latino, adolescent, elderly, and deaf populations benefit from preventive medicine. Geography-focused studies by the PRCs also examine how prevention improves the health of both urban and rural populations with limited resources.

In addition, the CDC's National Prevention Strategy (NPS) initiative examines a wide range of issues with the overall goal of creating a healthier nation. To do this, the NPS advocates looking beyond communicable diseases and focusing on preventable chronic illnesses. As the CDC states, nearly 50 percent of American adults have one or more chronic illnesses, some of which are preventable.

With the appropriate research methods, funding, and resources, public health officials can drastically improve the health of communities. After all, prevention can impact the health of people of all ages. As the CDC reports, preventing illness and disease can help children attend school for more days per year and improve their academic achievement. Similarly, healthy adults can attend work for more days each year and improve their productivity. Preventive health programs can also help seniors maintain greater levels of independence for longer.

The Future of Prevention and Public Health

As the AAAS states, understanding the impact of prevention on public health has never been as important as it is now. As a major contributor to prevention-related research, the PPHF will largely direct future priorities for public health officials.

According to data published by the DHHS, among the many preventive programs receiving funding, the CDC's Immunization, Office of Smoking and Health, Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grants, Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and Diabetes Prevention programs will receive the most financial support in 2017. That means public health officials will continue to shape policies and programs around preventing epidemics and promoting community health and well-being.

In the future, focusing on the health of communities rather than individual patients can enable health care providers to think critically, apply resources effectively, and make a large-scale impact on specific populations. Public health officials can take multifaceted roles that involve policy advocacy and implementation, teaching and program development, and public health research as they strive to improve public health through prevention.

If you are interested in advancing your career to make a difference in the health of the public, consider pursuing a master’s degree in Public Health from Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

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