Health Promotion vs Health Protection

Michael Galvan

Multiple public and private organizations function to improve the health and well-being of the general public. Some of these bodies function independently, others collaboratively, but all are dedicated to building and maintaining an environment that supports a healthy population.

These groups may be more broadly generalized into two categories that guide various regulatory and care-oriented organizations: health promotion and health protection. While the two may sound similar, each has its own unique approach to managing the health of the larger population.

Health Promotion

Health promotion addresses large scale public health concerns, beginning with the well-being of each individual. Health promotion activities are those which seek to modify the behavior of individuals by improving the choices that affect society at large. The goal is to decrease the risk of illness or disease and improve overall health.

Many of the initiatives that fall under the umbrella of health promotion are educational in nature. These educational initiatives address the individual’s knowledge of specific risk topics such as: nutrition, physical fitness, sexual practices, drugs and alcohol, tobacco, mental health, family planning, and multiple forms of abuse. In the many instances within the United States, health promotion initiatives can become a part of a larger public policy.

A popular example of successful health promotion is the warning label that now exists on cigarettes. Historically, cigarettes were considered socially acceptable, and commonly sold without any warning about the risk to the health of the user. However, health experts noted the increased incidence of disease and began to educate the public on the risks of smoking and tobacco use. Eventually, these health promotion activities led to a change in public policy, which now requires the manufactures to add a warning label directly to the package. Health promotion experts hope that by educating people about the danger of certain elective behaviors, they will gradually curb their behavior and maker healthier choices.

Health Protection

Health protection is concerned with preventing the spread of communicable diseases by establishing minimum standards, often in the form of regulations. Health protection is often managed by the public sector. In the United States, the responsibility of establishing and maintaining health protection standards is entrusted to government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Health and Human Services.

Another example of the standards set for health protection includes the standardized response and reporting procedures, occupational safety standards, and certain guidelines for optimizing worker rehabilitation following injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates many of these workplace administrative duties in the U.S. As a leading provider of occupational medicine, Concentra works closely with these agencies to assist employer efforts to follow the proper employee health and safety regulations. Concentra also partners with employers to offer ambulatory medical care to their employees such as pre-employment testing, primary care, and urgent care for ill or injured workers.

A good example of health protection is the regular testing of soil where farmers grow produce or raise items for consumption. By ensuring that food supply will not be contaminated with agents of disease, the FDA is able to prevent people from eating tainted food and becoming sick.


While health promotion and health protection approach the topic of public health from different directions, the two do have areas of overlapping interest. A common health prevention strategy is to warn the public about outbreaks of contagious diseases that pose a serious health risk. But, since viruses can’t always be eliminated, the recommendations are coupled with health promotion strategies meant to influence better health or hygienic practices, and thereby reduce the risk of spreading outbreaks. Employers often use this two-pronged approach during flu season, offering both immunization and education in improved hygiene techniques for hands and surfaces.

Health promotion and health protection both play an important role in the overall goal of maintaining a healthy population. These two strategies will continue to impact daily life and the policies by which a country is governed, keeping people safe and healthy.