BOX 1-1
Three Types of Public Health Law and Other Public Policy

Infrastructural: So called “enabling” public health statutes, which typically specify the mission, function, structure, and authorities of state or local public health agencies (also known as health departments).

Interventional: Federal, state, or local law or policy designed to modify a health risk factor.

Intersectoral: Federal, state, or local law or policy implemented by a non-health agency for a primary purpose other than health, but which has intended or unintended health effects.

The committee believes timing is critical to examine and make the most of the role and usefulness of the law and public policy to improve population health. This sense of urgency emerges from the juxtaposition of recent or evolving developments, as follows:


  • In the sciences of public health
  • In the economy (i.e., the financial crisis and the great uncertainty and severe budget cuts faced by public health agencies and by government in general)
  • In the social and legislative arenas (e.g., the Affordable Care Act)
  • In the functioning of public health (e.g., fragmentation of government response to public health issues, lack of interstate coordination of policies and regulations, and lack of coordination among a broad range of actors that affect the public’s health)
  • In the health of the population (e.g., data on the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population and poor rankings in international comparisons of major indicators of health)

The committee’s charge specifies the review of laws and regulations, but the committee interpreted its charge broadly to include public policy in general. This is consistent with discussions of public health law in conjunction with policy elsewhere, including in the work of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Practice at Temple University and of Public Health Law and Policy, a California non-profit organization that provides tools and technical assistance to public health officials, communities, and advocates. In general, public policy refers to the broad arena of positions, principles, and priorities that inform (and constitute) decision making in all branches

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