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Public Health: A Major for the Concerned Citizen «

Public Health: A Major for the Concerned Citizen

Historical Growth in Life Expectancy
Over the years, the average life expectancy for all groups of people has increased significantly. Life expectancy at birth ranged from 33 to 31 years throughout different eras spanning the Upper Paleolithic period to the Early 20th Century. These extremely low life expectancies were generally the byproduct of infant and youth mortality, as life expectancy at age 15 increased to 54 years old in the Upper Paleolithic era and to 64 years old in Medieval Britain. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the average life expectancy from birth around the world is now 67.2 years. The United States of America’s average life expectancy from birth is 78.7 years. Clearly, life expectancy has grown significantly over the years.

What are the Reasons Behind this Growth?
Much of the growth in life expectancy can be attributed to a few factors. The first of these factors is the eradication or relative control of many previously deadly diseases. Prior to the 20th century, a huge amount of people died from a variety of diseases. The development and widespread use of vaccines played a huge role in the increase of average human life expectancy. Edward Jenner created the first vaccine in 1796 when he inoculated a boy with cowpox which prevented the boy from catching smallpox. The creation of more vaccines for different diseases in the 20th century played a large role in the growth of life expectancy. For example, the death rates for pneumonia and influenza (two diseases for which vaccines were created) fell 93 percent in the 20th century. Another reason for the growth in life expectancy is the increased role of sanitation. Cities and towns in the United States started cleaning garbage regularly, chlorinating their drinking water and improving sewage systems in the 20th century.

Improving Community Health: Majoring in Public Health
All of the above reasons for increases in life expectancy are fields of study in the major of public health. Public health is defined as ‘the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals’ by C.E.A. Winslow (a revered public health expert). The public health major takes an interdisciplinary approach to improving the quality of life for a population. Topics such as epidemiology, biostatistics and health services are all discussed in a public health degree.

Degrees in Public Health
Public health degrees are normally offered at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral levels. They are separated into two categories: academic and professional. Academic degrees focus more on research while professional degrees prepare students for practice in public health. Professional degrees are generally considered to be the Master of Public Health, Doctor of Public Health and Master of Health Care Administration. Academic degrees include Master of Science in Public Health, Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health and Doctor of Health Science.

Public Health Careers
There are many different careers available to public health majors and some of these include epidemiologists, biostatisticians, public health nurses, medical microbiologists, environmental health officers, dental hygienists, dietitians and nutritionists, health inspectors, veterinarians, public health engineers, public health lawyers and community development workers.

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