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Public health 101: Health and well-being for all

You’ve likely been hearing a lot about public health lately. But just what does it mean?

By Kathryn Stroppel

You’ve likely been hearing a lot about public health lately. But just what does it mean?  

Public Health 101, hosted by professor and epidemiologist  Viktor Bovbjerg, explores the meaning of public health, defined by the CDC as “The science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities and individuals.” 

Regardless which definition of public health you prefer, Viktor says they all share five key themes: Science, communities, prevention, equity and collective action. 

“Equity is especially important,” he says. “Everybody deserves the benefits of public health.” 

When considering public health challenges, including the recent pandemic, he says that public health professionals ask themselves four main questions: 

  • Is this a public health problem? And if so, for whom? What’s the prevalence? What’s the impact? Get the data. 
  • If yes, what are the causes at the  individual and/or collective levels? 
  • If we know the cause, what action can we take? Primary prevention, early diagnosis/treatment, reduce impact/complication – or some combination? 
  • Was the public health action effective? And for whom? Ensuring equity and access demands finding approaches that work for every group. There are multiple solutions/layers: Environment, policy, community, organizational, interpersonal and individual, and they’re interrelated. 

Viktor also shares the 10 essential services in public health, and emphasizes that many different people and roles plug in professionally to achieve those goals.  

In the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, students and researchers alike are at an advantage, he says, because all key public health disciplines are represented and are complemented by the human sciences, which are powerfully connected to public health. “Our impact goes well beyond what we can do individually.” 

Viktor Bovbjerg
Professor and epidemiologist  Viktor Bovbjerg

And what can you do to be a good public health advocate? “Read, learn and be informed,” he says. “Join a group, get involved to affect policy and then see the impact.” 

Watch Public Health 101 above or on the college’s YouTube page.  

The Public Health Insider series is a joint initiative hosted by the OSU Alumni Association, OSU Foundation, OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and OSU Center for Health Innovation. Other videos in this series include “Public health careers: The world needs you,” (July 1) and “A public health crisis: Factors that impact your health outcomes” (July 8).

Sign up and learn more at All three videos will be available on the CPHHS YouTube page after July 8.