What is Public Health Advocacy?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Public health advocacy is the process of promoting education, processes and legislation that are designed to improve the general health of people living within a defined geographical location. The process of advocacy also involves identifying potential threats to the health of people living in the community and alerting others to the seriousness of those threats. Many different people can function in some capacity to support this effort, from volunteers to health care professionals and lawmakers.

It is possible to find people engaged in the work of public health advocacy in a number of ways. Some choose to work through a non-profit organization and seek to educate people on particular health conditions and risk, such as cancer, tobacco use, or diabetes. Others are more involved in the research aspect of advocacy, actively raising funds and resources that can be devoted to the creation of new medicines and treatments that will help alleviate suffering. Still others function as part of government oversight of federal and local programs, including monitoring the condition of city water and sewage systems and inspecting foods that are prepared and offered to the general public.


The goal of most organized public health advocacy efforts is twofold. First, the organization seeks to present the general public with correct and current information regarding a particular health condition or risk. This includes assisting persons suffering with the condition in securing medical treatment, promoting research that will help minimize the impact of the health risk, and alerting the public to situations within the community that may increase the chances for spreading the health problem.

Second, public health advocacy goes behind education to promote action. This often takes the form of encouraging the implementation of laws and standards that will pave the way for better health conditions for all people in the community. From this perspective, the role of a public health advocate is not just about pointing out the problem but also promoting solutions.

Just about anyone can participate in the process of public health advocacy on some level. Volunteers can support local non-profits that focus on one or more health issues with donations of time and money. People who wish to make public health a career can become inspectors or find work with educators who provide correct data about various public health threats. There is also the option of working for an advocate program full-time, possibly serving as a lobbyist that focuses on urging lawmakers to pass legislation that will improve health conditions for the public.

Public health advocacy plays an important role in the creation of public health policy, including general health care policy. By educating the public, identifying threats to the health of citizens in general, and promoting action to minimize or remove those threats, the advocate joins with other public health professionals in making the quality of life much higher for some people than it would have been otherwise.


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