Health Programs

Health programs aim to improve the health of people, communities, and societies. They work to reduce health disparities and to achieve some of society’s most cherished values: that children are born healthy and grow up strong, that students learn well, that workers are productive and safe, that families are stable and supportive, and that older adults enjoy independence and dignity.

Programs to promote health reduce the amount of money individuals, employers, insurance companies, medical facilities, and communities spend on treatment for illnesses and disabilities. These programs also help to prevent diseases and other disorders by teaching people healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise, good nutrition, avoidance of tobacco and harmful chemicals, and getting enough sleep and quality sleep.

Earlier generations of school health programs focused on stemming the spread of infectious disease, but in recent decades these issues have been largely superseded by new problems such as injuries, violence and risky sexual behaviors; a lack of access to services such as family planning, health and social services, and health information; and societal and economic factors such as poverty and inadequate housing and education. To deal with these problems, comprehensive school health programs combine health education, health promotion and disease prevention and provide students with health and social services at the school site.

In addition to educating the public about health, health programs often conduct research in areas such as biomedical science, genetics, environmental and social sciences. They also develop health education methods and materials; identify needs and advocate; perform community organizing, outreach, and training; and manage and write funding proposals.

The greatest strength of the field of public health is its unique perspective on maximizing health so that people can accomplish their most valued goals. These goals include that children are born healthy and grow up strong, able to learn, that workers are productive and safe, that parents are caring and nurturing, that neighborhoods are safe and supportive, that people stay healthy throughout their lives, that they have access to affordable health care, and that the nation’s most disadvantaged citizens receive necessary social and human services.

NACCHO offers resources to help local health departments (LHDs) develop and strengthen their infrastructure and systems. These include community preparedness resources to address natural and man-made hazards, and tools to support LHDs’ efforts to practice public health 3.0.

A central feature of public health is collaboration among disparate groups that may have little or no previous interaction with one another. This includes bringing together schools, business, law enforcement, transportation, agriculture, and labor to agree on and undertake a common agenda. Successful long-term coalitions, such as those that supported smallpox eradication, tuberculosis control, and polio eradication, can achieve remarkable results.

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