Public Health Policy: Definition, Examples, and More

May 6, 2021

Public health policy plays a vital role in the general wellness and safety of a population. Based on the given needs of a community, public health policy establishes clear goals and solutions towards total health.

What is Public Health Policy?

Public health policy is defined as the laws, regulations, actions, and decisions implemented within society in order to promote wellness and ensure that specific health goals are met.

Public health policies can range from formal legislation to community outreach efforts. Public health policy plays a role in multiple sectors, including:

  • Health care

  • Insurance

  • Education

  • Agriculture

  • Business

  • And more.

A clear public health policy definition can be hard to pin down due to its multidisciplinary nature. However, at the core of all public health policy is a singular mission towards health.

Organizations such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and other governmental and non-governmental agencies play a large role in public health policy. These organizations perform research and implement education and health initiatives for a population—creating laws and policies that ensure the society has nutritious food to eat, clean water to drink, vaccines for the sick, and access to health care.

The Importance of Public Health Policy

Public health policy is crucial because it brings the theory and research of public health into the practical world. Public health policies create action from research and find widespread solutions to previously identified problems.

As a public health policy official, you are responsible for initiating strategies and policies around both health intervention and prevention. To allow your target population to flourish, you must address not only physical health, but mental, social, and economic well-being as well.

Public Health Policy Examples

Before public health policies are implemented, policymakers and officials will go through an extensive research process to determine what public health issues need to be addressed and formulate the best subsequent solutions. Here are a few common public health policies that have become a core part of society today:

  1. Food Safety Policy: Food safety policies are very important to the general health of individuals and people in society. Food-related illnesses are a significant concern, and it is the job of public health officials to formulate policies to ensure that only food that is safe for consumption is made available for the public.

  2. Tobacco Use: Many public health officials have put measures in place to reduce the risks of deaths and illnesses caused by tobacco consumption and smoking. Some of these policies include increasing tobacco prices and creating tobacco-free areas in communities to protect non-smokers from the effects of secondary smoking.

  3. HIV: Public health policy plays an important role in educating the public about HIV prevention, how to live with the virus, treatment options, and preventing stigma. Public health policies, including increased access to testing, birth control, and medicine, have been implemented to drastically reduce the impact and spread of the virus in various communities.

  4. Alcohol: Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of vehicular accidents, violence, sexual assault, health complications, and more. Public health policies are crucial in the fight to curtail alcohol dependence and reduce its negative effects on users. Policies on alcohol differ depending on the community, but the most common example is age restrictions in the consumption and purchase of alcohol.

With a Master of Public Health Degree, graduates can pursue careers in government agencies, healthcare organizations, non-profits, higher education, and more. Students will use their knowledge of public health assessment and solutions to promote a healthier society and world at large.

Through intensive study and expert curriculum, the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health’s MPH program provides students with the critical skills and knowledge to tackle a wide range of health challenges in society.

Begin your public health career today by visiting our Master of Public Health program page. For more information on public health news, trends, and research, visit our blog.


Since 1922, the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health has led the charge in public health research, education, and community collaboration. We tackle today's pressing public health issues and translate research into action. Learn more about our public health degree programs.