Core Definitions

The professional and popular literature on public health offers numerous, and sometimes competing, definitions of concepts that are the building blocks of an MPH program. The following Core Definitions establish our MPH program’s orientation to public health and community health education.


A dynamic [social] system that is continually being created and re-created and that affects and is affected by our consciousness and our actions (Walter, 1997). The key elements of community may include shared geography, historicity, identity, shared vision, sense of purpose and values, mutuality, wholeness incorporating diversity, caring, trust, teamwork, respect and recognition, links beyond the community, development of new members, investment in community, and community resources (Gardner, 1991; Selznick, 1992).

Community Health Education

Systematic application of theory and methods from the social and behavioral sciences, epidemiology, ecology, administrative science, [and multicultural communication] to enhance health at the population or community level (adapted from Green, 1998). Community health education is strengths-based, using the strategies of health education and health promotion to enhance community capacity; to facilitate individual and community resilience; and to identify, nurture, and celebrate community assets (adapted from Minkler, 1997).


The full range of human experience, encompassing gender; age; culture; race and ethnicity; sexual orientation; social class; physical disability; religion; professional preparation; background experiences; and all the myriad ways in which we are alike and not alike (adapted from Angelou, 1977).


A social action process that promotes participation of people, organizations, and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice (Wallerstein, 1992).


The branch of philosophy that deals with distinctions between right and wrong – with moral consequences of human actions (Last, 1995). In addition to our own professional code of ethics, health educators must be cognizant of the ethical systems of other individuals, groups, and professions.


A state of physical, mental, and social well-being, in which an individual or group is able to identify and realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is a positive concept, emphasizing social and personal resources. Health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living (Ottawa Charter, 1986).

Health Disparity

A particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion (Healthy People 2020).

Health Education

A combination of planned, consistent, and integrated learning opportunities that seek to elicit, facilitate, and maintain positive health practices by assuring that people have the understanding, skills, and support necessary for their voluntary adoption of activities conducive to their health (Green, 1994).

Health Promotion

The combination of health education with related organizational, environmental, and economic supports to foster behavior conducive to health (Green, 1994).   Health promotion focuses on achieving equity in health. It is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve, their health. Its actions aim at reducing differences in current health status and ensuring equal opportunities and resources to enable all people to achieve their fullest human potential (Ottawa Charter, 1986).

Health Equity

Attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities (Healthy People 2020).

Public Health

Organized community efforts to enhance health in human populations (CEPH, 1978). Public health is ultimately and essentially an ethical enterprise committed to the notion that all persons are entitled to protection against the hazards of this world and to the minimization of death and disability in society (Beauchamp, 1976). Contemporary public health is as much about facilitating a process whereby communities use their voice to define and make their health concerns known (Wallack, 1993) and their strengths realized and nurtured (Minkler, 1997), as it is about providing prevention and treatment.


A perceived whole whose elements “hang together” because they continually effect each other over time and operate toward a common purpose (Senge, 1985). A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent components that form a complex whole (Anderson and Johnson, 1997).

Systems Thinking

Thought that focuses on recognizing the interconnections between the parts of a system and synthesizing them into a unified view of the whole (Anderson and Johnson, 1997).