What is Public Health?

Public health is defined as ‘the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of society’.

Public Health is about promoting well-being and preventing ill health.

It is about keeping people healthy and improving the health of populations, rather than treating the diseases, disorders and disabilities of individuals.

Public Health takes a population health approach by taking into account all the factors which determine health and planning how these factors can be tackled. A population health approach can be used by all parts of the health sector.

Public Health initiatives can:

  • take place at many levels throughout the health sector and beyond
  • be planned and implemented in collaboration with other sectors
  • advise other sectors on the health impact of their activities, and where necessary, regulate these
  • support other parts of the health sector to take a population health approach to service planning and delivery.

What does Public Health do?

The public health sector works to ensure potential risks to the health of the population are monitored, managed and promoted by:

Health Protection
  • monitoring our environment to ensure risks to the health of the public are managed (e.g., by way of submissions to external agencies)
  • licensing organisations and premises as required by regulation
  • enforcing public health legislation, including investigating complaints and taking appropriate action
  • planning for emergencies (e.g., mass casualty events), so that if an emergency does occur a timely response can be put into action to protect our population’s health
  • providing environmental advice to the Government and local agencies on an ‘as required’ basis
  • advocating for policy change and being involved in policy development at national, regional and local levels
  • promoting the development of physical and social environments that are conducive to good health
  • raising public awareness of health-related issues
  • developing and managing population-based screening programmes e.g., breast/cervical cancer screening programmes.




Health Promotion
  • working with communities and the wider health sector to develop and establish public health programmes
  • assisting schools with the implementation of the Health and Physical Education curriculum and the development of a health promoting environment
  • working with the media on public health issues – interviews, media releases, talk-back radio programmes
  • Running national media campaigns
  • developing and distributing health-related resources – pamphlets, posters, videos, newsletter, teaching kits, interactive websites
  • training health professionals, community workers and youth peer educators

Public Health Planning Model

In 1986 in Ottawa, Canada, the World Health Organisation (WHO) developed an approach to improving the health of populations and individuals. This is known as the Ottawa Charter and is used in New Zealand as a framework for planning public health strategies.

The Ottawa Charter shows that to improve the health of populations and individuals there is a need to look wider than just providing health services. If people are able to take responsibility for the health of their families and themselves, they need:

  • protection from environmental factors that could lead to health risks
  • adequate housing
  • a liveable income
  • employment
  • educational opportunities
  • a sense of belonging and being valued
  • a sense of control over life circumstances.