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Issues in public health


This module is designed to answer the question "What is public health?" and to introduce the main concepts, principles, and practises of public health.

Topics covered

This module is designed for students who want to consider the question 'What is public health?' It focuses on activities that societies undertake to enhance the health of populations. It looks at how societies organise health care to make it accessible to all. It also addresses global and influential health issues like smoking, obesity, climate change and the changing nature of infectious diseases.

The module will discuss how much of modern public health today is about tackling strongly vested interests (tobacco companies, alcohol industry, food producers, etc.). Furthering that discussion, the programme confronts explicitly the political nature of public health and considers how to address current public health dilemmas in that context.

Much disease and ill health has its origins in the way that we organise our society, in deciding how much income to redistribute, how resources, such as education, transport and housing, should be provided, and who pays for what. We discuss how these determinants affect public health.

Finally, in this context of modern public health, we examine the importance of empowering people and creating empowering environments, so that people can make healthy decisions.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the module successfully, you should be able to:

  • Understand the historical evolution of public health and its influence on modern public health
  • Use basic data on populations and mortality and calculate mortality rates
  • Cite the methods used to estimate the burden of disease and assess the factors which contribute to it
  • Express the extent to which health care contributes to population health
  • Assess the effect of other sectors’ policies on health
  • Address inequalities in health and understand where they come from
  • Describe the issues and challenges surrounding tobacco use and control globally
  • Recognise contemporary determinants of health: human rights, armed conflict, emerging infectious diseases and genetics
  • Explain the development of nutrition and health and the impact of public policy
  • Consider the public health implications of climate change and managing the environment


Formal assessment of this module includes a two-hour 15 minute unseen written examination (100%). Students are advised to spend the first 15 minutes reading the paper and planning responses.

If students fail the module examination, they are allowed one further attempt.

Essential Reading

The following is provided as part of the course materials after you register:

  • Issues in Public Health edited by Fiona Sim and Martin McKee (2011, Second Edition) Open University Press.

Find out more information about this module on the LSHTM website.