John Steen: We Need an education in public health

Editor’s note: This commentary is by John Steen, of South Burlington, who is now retired after being a scholar and teacher of philosophy, followed by a 20-year career in health care planning, health regulation and public health, ending as a professor of health policy and a private consultant. He is immediate past president of the American Health Planning Association. 

Since 1900, the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by about 30 years. Over 25 of the 30 years can be accredited to public health initiatives, while medical advances account for less than four years. Yet only about 3% of health spending in the United States is devoted to public health activities. Unlike medicine, which is about saving individual patients, public health is about protecting the wellbeing of entire communities.

Public health’s top 10 achievements in the 20th century, according to the CDC, include:

• Vaccinations                                        
• Safer and

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