chapter  4
36 Pages

The Politics of Public Health and Law

Historically, discussion of the history of public health has ignored the role of law in public health practice. Law was generally accorded a subordinate role in public health practice, and the role of law in public health innovation was deemphasized. The increased incidence of chronic disease led to expansion of the scientific basis of public health during the second half of the twentieth century. Despite the fact that this created a renewed interest in environmental factors and individual behavior in controlling chronic disease, law and regulations were viewed mainly as mechanisms for legitimizing the findings of scientific research rather than as important tools in improving the health of the population. However, in recent years historians have begun to revise the history of public healthto demonstrate the centrality of law in the development of public health practice. This revisionist history has added legitimacy to the public health law reform movement (Fox 2001). Under this new conception of the public health profession, public health practice is viewed as the result of ongoing sociopolitical negotiations involving experts from many disciplines requiring better skills of negotiation and accommodation rather than advocacy (Fox 2001). Law and regulations have come to be viewed as important tools in achieving the goal of improved public health.