Population Health and Public Health

Both public health and population health value the well-being of a community equally. Each examines health trends and causes, and suggests approaches to promoting health. Where they differ is in the way that each addresses and studies the health of a population.

What is Population Health?

Population health focuses on the health outcomes of the entire population, or a sub-population, looking at “societal structures, attitudes and behaviours which influence health”[*], and seeking ways to improve health and reduce health inequities between population groups.

Building on traditions of public health and health promotion, the population health approach looks at a broad range of social determinants of health (such as social, economic and physical environments, personal health practices, individual capacity and coping skills, human biology, early childhood development, culture, gender and health services), and addresses those determinants to improve health.

Population health is, then, broadly defined as “the capacity of people to adapt to, respond to, or control life’s challenges and changes.”[*]

[*]* Health Impact Assessment as a Tool for Population Health Promotion and Public Policy by C.J. Frankish et al., University of British Columbia, Vancouver: 1996

What is Public Health?

Public health is primarily concerned with the health of a community as a whole, rather than individuals. While doctors and clinicians treat diseases one patient at a time, public health practitioners focus on disease and injury prevention. They identify causes of health issues and work to find solutions that can benefit the wider community.

In the past century and a half, there have been many achievements in public health. From John Snow famously removing a pump handle and stopping the spread of cholera in London, to immunization programs that have nearly eradicated polio, smallpox and diphtheria, to the reduction and removal of asbestos and other carcinogens from homes and workplaces, public health practitioners have focused on improving the quality of life for people locally and around the world.

Public Health has a strong history at UBC. Our first president, Frank Fairchild Wesbrook, was a public health doctor and bacteriologist, whose research work focused on diphtheria, as well as water chlorination. A forerunner of Frederick Banting, he also undertook research on diabetes, as it related to the pancreas.

Examples of population and public health research projects our faculty are undertaking.