In the minds of the public, hospitals tend to represent healthcare and health, a fact exploited by politicians and frustrating to many others, including public health practitioners. As reactive organisations, dealing with the effects of disease and unhealthy lifestyles on individual patients, hospitals' role in promoting population health may seem obscure. However, the acute sector absorbs over half developed countries' total spend on healthcare and therefore consumes significant proportions of their annual gross national product (GNP). Its contributions to the health of populations in these countries are therefore pertinent. Promoting healthier lifestyle choices is only one method the acute sector can use to improve the health of the people within them. The debate on whether healthcare has had a positive, negative or neutral impact on population health has raged for many decades. As organisations delivering acute healthcare, perhaps the most natural public health role for hospitals is to ensure this care is of the highest quality.