Last (1983) defines public health as:
the efforts organised by society to protect, promote and restore the public's health. It is the combination of sciences, skills and beliefs that are directed to the maintenance and improvement of the health of all people through collective or social actions. The programs, services and institutions involved emphasise the prevention of disease and the health needs of the population as a whole. Public health activities change with changing technology and values, but the goals remain the same: to reduce the amount of disease, premature death and disability in the population. (p.45)
Recommended goals and targets for addressing national public health problems and directed at reducing the amount of death and premature death have been proposed in many countries over the past 10 years, including the United States of America (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1990), the United Kingdom (Department of Health, 1992), Canada (Ontario Premiers' Council on Health, 1987) and Australia (Nutbeam, Wise, Bauman, Harris, & Leeder, 1993). In Australia for example, over the past 2 years, much attention has been directed at health outcomes related to cardiovascular disease, cancers, accidents and injuries and mental health. All of these reports have emphasised the importance of changing those lifestyle and related risk factors associated with preventable causes of death. Priority lifestyle areas that have been identified include physical inactivity, diet and nutrition, smoking, alcohol and other drug use, safety behaviours, sun protective behaviours, appropriate use of medicines, immunisation, sexuality and reproductive health, oral hygiene, and mental health. Priority populations and appropriate settings for intervening in these areas have also been identified.