Evidence-based public health interventions have saved millions of lives since 1854, when Dr. John Snow first identified a public water well as the source of a major cholera outbreak in London. In the decades since, public health interventions have been instrumental in improving the health and well-being of people in large and small communities.1
A public health intervention is an organized effort to promote those specific behaviors and habits that can improve physical, mental and emotional health. These interventions can also reframe the perspective of unhealthy habits to change the way people think about those behaviors.
Public health interventions play an important role in the overall health, longevity and productivity of a community, as they can improve quality of life, reduce human suffering, help children thrive, and save money. The people and programs involved in public health work to create the healthiest nation possible.
Public Health Interventions Bring About Important Change
Public health interventions have been saving lives and reducing disability for decades, but these great achievements tend to go unnoticed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the ten greatest public health achievements from 1900 to 1999 as:2
- Motor vehicle safety
- Safer workplaces
- Control of infectious diseases
- Decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke
- Safer and healthier foods
- Healthier mothers and babies
- Family planning
- Fluoridation of drinking water
- Recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard
But how have these public health interventions helped save lives? Well, it was a public health intervention that pushed for the passage of seat belt laws, and the 90 percent adherence to those laws saves nearly 15,000 lives each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).3 Vaccinations wiped out smallpox, diphtheria and paralytic polio and have nearly wiped out measles, rubella, mumps and other infectious diseases. Achievements in public health have also greatly improved safety in the workplace.
One of the most important public health achievements has been a dramatic reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD). According to CDC statistics, the age-adjusted death rates from CVD have declined 60 percent since 1950.4
Public health intervention programs can be cost-effective solutions to some of the most pressing community health issues in the nation today. In a study by Trust for America's Health, researchers found that investing just $10 per person per year in community-based programs that improve nutrition, increase physical activity and prevent tobacco use could save the nation more than $16 billion annually within the first five years of the investment. Of the $16 billion in savings, private payers could save more than $9 billion, Medicare would save more than $5 billion and Medicaid would enjoy more than $1.9 billion in savings.5
6 Types of Public Health Intervention
Today's public health requires a multidisciplinary team of public health workers that might include epidemiologists, biostatisticians, public health nurses, medical assistants, midwives or medical microbiologists. Together, they can implement a variety of preventive and/or responsive interventions, including the six outlined below.
1. Epidemiology and Surveillance
Epidemiology focuses on the causes and distribution of infectious diseases and other health issues and works to stop them from spreading.
Epidemiologists, public health physicians and nurses, and public policymakers participate in epidemiology and surveillance work. Research by epidemiologists and other epidemiology professionals can impact maternal and child health, environmental health, responses to bioterrorism, substance abuse and other public health issues.
Outreach programs identify populations-of-interest or populations-at-risk and provide information about the nature of a particular health concern, possible solutions and ways residents can obtain medical services. Outreach specialists help promote affordable health care options and provide health education, advocacy and community awareness around public health issues such as obesity, stress, maternal and childhood health, and sexually transmitted infections.
A number of organizations, such as community health centers, federally qualified health centers, public hospitals and other nonprofit organizations, hire outreach professionals.
Population-based screening is an essential component of public health because it helps identify individuals with asymptomatic diseases or unrecognized health risk factors. Screening has two main goals: Identifying diseases in their early states and identifying risk states, such as high blood pressure, so that patients may begin treatment early. Public health screening may include newborn screening for genetic disorders and mammography to detect breast cancer before it is palpable.
4. Health Teaching
Professionals responsible for public health teaching interventions communicate ideas, facts and skills that can change the level of knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values and practices of communities, systems, families and individuals. They work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and community health centers. Public health educators work to ensure that community members understand health risks and concerns relevant to their age group and location.
5. Social Marketing
Social marketing seeks to bring about behavioral changes that improve health. Social marketing may be effective for the promotion of breastfeeding practices in community and workplace settings, for example, and can help educate policymakers about the benefits of breastfeeding.
6. Policy Development
Public health professionals play an important role in the policy-making process by conducting analyses of similar policies and communicating their findings, developing partnerships between decision-makers and health care providers, and by promoting and implementing evidence-based public health interventions.
Becoming a Public Health Leader
Public health leaders often have a college degree in public health, such as a Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH), a Master of Public Health (MPH) or a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health (Ph.D.). Professionals holding a BSPH often work in health promotion and education, environmental and occupational health, and health services administration. MPHs may work in biostatistics, environmental health services, epidemiology, health policy and management, and social behavioral sciences. Those carrying a Ph.D. in public health might specialize in epidemiology, prevention science, and health policy and management.
Public health intervention professionals occupy various roles and manage diverse responsibilities, which can include:
- Disease and vaccination research in diagnostic laboratories
- Teaching members of the community how to eat nutritious foods
- Developing guidelines for safeguarding against toxic substances and potential safety hazards
- Monitoring air and water quality as part of a government agency
- Managing healthcare clinics and nursing homes
- Working with emergency specialists to develop disaster response strategies
- Drafting policies for community access to basic healthcare services
Think your place in public health may be in the intervention space? Explore the possibilities with the online Master of Public Health from Kent State University, with available specialties in Health Policy and Management and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
1 Retrieved on June 8, 2018, from blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2017/03/a-legacy-of-disease-detectives/
2 Retrieved on June 8, 2018, from cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4850bx.htm
3 Retrieved on June 8, 2018, from nhtsa.gov/seat-belts/seat-belts-save-lives
4 Retrieved on June 8, 2018, from cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4830a1.htm
5 Retrieved on June 8, 2018, from healthyamericans.org/reports/prevention08/Prevention08.pdf