Emerald Group Publishing Limited
One of the problems of public health, as the editors of this wide‐ranging review point out, is that it can be everything and anything from the air we breathe, to the food we eat, where we live or what we do. As such it also risks being nothing but just a diffuse collection of ideas that are not seen to deliver any concrete product. It was this “everywhere but nowhere” tension that prompted the editors (Siân Griffiths and David Hunter) to collect together contemporary perspectives in public health to provide a snapshot of public health in the UK past, present and future.
The editors have assembled an impressive list of contributors from a variety of professional backgrounds to provide differing viewpoints of “public health”. The contributions are presented in three sections. Part 1 presents a series of case studies covering key areas of public health action (including for example, health inequalities, food, transport, housing). Given the wide range of contributors, it is unsurprising that the different case studies vary in the style and approach taken, some authors taking a broad national and international viewpoint, others considering the issues from a local perspective. The case studies work best when both the national and local perspectives are considered. Some readers may challenge the particular case studies selected. What about mental health, employment or the needs of ethnic minority populations, for example? However, the case studies presented do succeed in capturing the broad ranging nature of public health in the UK today.
The second part of the book considers more generic issues relating to the practice of public health, again from the perspective of a variety of different professional backgrounds. For me, this section was the more interesting and thought provoking, dealing as it did with some of the core issues concerning the way in which public health is practiced and organised in the UK today. At times, there is a lack of coherence between chapters, with some repetition. Furthermore, the reader may not endorse all the viewpoints presented. Yet any collection of contemporary perspectives of public health will have failed if it fails to stimulate some controversy and debate.
The final section of the book was perhaps the most challenging, trying to predict the future for public health. It is difficult to picture what public health will be like in the year 2025 when the future in 2001 is uncertain. These are testing times for public health professionals who are facing ever increasing expectations within changing organisational and professional structures. The final chapters illustrate these challenges while also highlighting the opportunities these changing times offer for the future of public health.
Overall the book presents a varied collection of viewpoints on public health. Readers who are seeking a neat encapsulation of “what is public health” will be disappointed. In many ways, the presentation of so many different perspectives does not dispel the notion of public health as being diverse and diffuse. However, those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of public health issues and practice in the UK at the end of the twentieth century will be amply rewarded.