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Preventive health & services in public health

The World Health Organization defines public health as “all organized measures to prevent disease, promote health and prolong life for a population.” Organized measures include activities aimed at improving the health of a group of people, or changing health behavior patterns to improve quality of life. Public health professionals identify risk factors associated with negative health outcomes, foster and support the adoption of healthy behaviors, and inform the public about health-related policies mandated at the local and national level. Public health uses multiple approaches and strategies to prevent disease and illness and to maintain the health and well-being of a community. Public health preventive health strategies and services serve as the underpinnings of a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree; an MPH degree delivers the educational principles needed to effectively produce and advance public health preventive strategies to specific target populations.

Levels of preventive health

Preventive strategies in public health offer methods aimed at reducing the conditions that generate illness through three levels of prevention. The first level of prevention, known as primary prevention, includes services or activities that prevent an illness from occurring. Examples of primary prevention efforts include childhood vaccinations, health education programs to prevent the onset of diabetes or using adequate sunscreen prior to exposure to the sun.

The early detection of a disease or illness, and immediate treatment at the onset of symptoms, is known as secondary prevention. A common secondary prevention strategy or service is disease screening among those at increased risk. These types of screenings may include mammography or breast cancer screenings, colorectal screenings to identify polyps or growths that may lead to cancer, or blood pressure screenings to detect and prevent hypertension.

The third level of prevention is referred to as tertiary prevention. Tertiary prevention services and strategies reduce health-related complications and improve the quality of life for a person diagnosed with a disease or illness. The development and uptake of a special diet for someone diagnosed with diabetes and physical rehabilitation after sustaining an injury are examples of tertiary prevention services and strategies.

Types of preventive health & services

The role and value of preventive health and services in public health have recently garnered national attention while increasing awareness of the dangers associated with certain health issues. For instance, people across the nation are encouraged to wear pink to bring attention to early cancer screenings and to support breast cancer research during October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Additionally, efforts to prevent cyberbullying, or the intended or unintended harm caused by harassment through the use of technology or the Internet, have included health education campaigns for parents and children and the adoption of policies to deter threatening behavior.

In a report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Unites States spends more than $2 trillion annually on healthcare. The bulk of healthcare funding is spent on treating preventable diseases and injuries after they occur. Unfortunately, less than $0.05 per dollar is spent on public health preventive services and strategies. Healthcare costs are expected to rise at unprecedented rates to treat chronic health issues over the next two to three decades and will continue to tax the weakened healthcare budgets. Preventive health and services in public health offer strategies and methods aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of citizens by reducing the conditions that foster the onset of illness and disease. By using multiple strategies to identify and decrease the rate of illness and disease, the role of preventive health and services is crucial for promoting the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. An important measure of the value of preventive health and services is dollars saved for deterring negative health conditions while improving quality of life.

Learn more about the University of South Carolina’s online MPH program.


World Health Organizations:

Cancer Epidemiology: Principles and methods. International Agency for Research on Cancer

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:

Electronic Aggression. The Centers for Disease control and Prevention:

Return on Investments in Public Health: Saving lives and money. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

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