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National Public Health Week: Public Health Research in Action

The American Public Health Association every April recognizes the tireless work of public health professionals across the U.S. and the countless contributions of public health research during National Public Health Week(NPHW). Public health research has boomed in the last century.  This research has informed state and local policies that have increased the average life-expectancy in the U.S., lowered infant and maternal mortality rates, and provided safe water and nutritious food, among many other societal improvements. In honor of NPHW, we explore the impact of public health research that has shaped our world today and will continue to protect generations to come.

Public health policies such as seat belt laws and anti-smoking regulations, rooted in evidence from research, have become integral parts of our daily lives. For instance, landmark studies in the 1950s linked smoking tobacco to lung cancer, prompting subsequent global research and tobacco regulations. Today, public health researchers continue to study the health effects of tobacco and emerging nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

Public health policies are informed by new research and public health surveillance of existing health threats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts vital surveillance on infectious diseases like COVID-19, measles, and hepatitis, informing vaccination policies at national and state levels. Federally funded institutions such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitor water quality under the Clean Water Act, ensuring safety by setting standards for waterborne pathogens and chemicals in drinking water.

At the state level, health departments are responsible for regulating certain public health policies, like vaccinations requirements for school children. These requirements protect entire communities from infectious disease outbreaks and have been proven effective thanks to public health research. A century ago, diphtheria (DTaP) – now routinely prevented by vaccinations – led to the death of up to 15,000 people per year and up to 200,000 cases reported. However, in the last 25 years, only 14 cases and 1 death from DTaP have been reported.

As science and technology advance, new frontiers in public health research emerge, including topics like AI and health, microplastic exposure, and the health impacts of climate change. Public health professionals remain at the forefront, navigating these challenges to safeguard the health and safety of communities. NPHW serves as a reminder of the ongoing commitment to public health research and its profound impact on shaping a healthier future for generations to come.


Thun, Michael J., Early landmark studies of smoking and lung cancer. December 2010. The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(09)70401-2/abstract#back-bib1

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking water regulations. November 30, 2023. https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/drinking-water-regulations