What is the American Public Health Association?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2019
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The American Public Health Association (APHA) is one of the world's largest and oldest organizations dedicated to the advancement of public health. Founded in 1873, the Association is involved in every American state and in numerous international programs which are designed to improve global public health. Over 50,000 people claim membership in this organization, with numbers growing every year as the public health field expands with new professionals.

Doctor Stephen Smith founded the American Public Health Association during a period in which people were beginning to have a much better understanding of public health. The 1800s marked the introduction of a number of scientific theories to explain disease processes and the spread of disease. These led to the formation of public health as a discipline, and to the creation of groups like the American Public Health Association to perform research, outreach, and education related to public health topics. Many of these groups played an instrumental role in reforming policy to improve public health.

Members of the American Public Health Association include medical care providers, policy makers, members of the educational community, environmentalists, and government officials who are involved with public health. As of 2009, there were 27 sections, from Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs to Vision Care, dealing with various public health issues of interest and importance. These sections perform research, lobby for policy changes, do community outreach,and promote health for all Americans through access to information, health care, and education.


In the mid-1960s, the American Public Health Association went international, becoming one of the founding members of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA). This organization shares the goals of its member organizations, including identifying and addressing emerging public health risks, performing scientific research, improving living conditions in impoverished communities, and studying public health topics. Members try to stay ahead of public health problems so that they can address them quickly, before they grow unmanageable or grow to pose a larger threat.

Americans interested in public health careers are often members of the APHA. The organization also publishes The American Journal of Public Health, a peer-reviewed monthly which discusses emerging trends and research in public health, to keep members updated on the latest information in the field. This nonprofit organization makes many of its records available to the public in the interests of transparency; this documentation is available in their Washington, DC headquarters as well as on their website, located at



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