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Kentucky adults have varied views about what ‘public health’ means

Mar 7, 2019


The public health system comprises many organizations including local and state health departments, federally qualified health centers, hospitals, health and public safety organizations, nonprofits, and others supporting health in our communities.1 This system provides vaccinations, monitors diseases, investigates health hazards, enforces laws that protect health and safety, and mobilizes to identify and solve community health problems.2

The public health system is critical to improving the health of all Kentuckians. The 2018 Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) asked two questions about the topic to learn more about what Kentucky adults think when they hear the term “public health.”

KHIP is sponsored jointly by Interact for Health and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

‘Public health’ is health of the population

About 1 in 3 Kentucky adults (34%) said “public health” meant the health of the population in general. About 1 in 5 offered a wide variety of other replies (19%). About 1 in 10 gave specific responses related to organizations or services that are part of the public health system, such as “health departments,” “public health insurance plans,” “services for those who can’t afford health care” and “prevention of communicable diseases.”

8 in 10 understand ‘public health’

About 8 in 10 Kentucky adults said they understood “public health” very well (33%) or somewhat well (46%). One in five (21%) reported that they did not understand the term.

Although many Kentucky adults said they understand “public health” as the health of the population in general, many also said they do not fully understand the term. This trend has been observed historically in similar studies about how the term “public health” is understood by the public.3,4

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Public Health System & the 10 Essential Public Health Services. June 2018. Retrieved from
2. Ibid.
3.  CDC. MMWR Weekly. Public Opinion About Public Health-United States, 1999. (Mar. 2000). 49(12); 258-260.
4.  Lezin, N et al. Perceptions of Public Health. Public Health Reports. (1998). 113; 324-329.

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