Preventive Medicine, medical speciality that promotes health and prevents illness. In the late 20th century this speciality gained importance as public-health officials became concerned about the increasing cost of health care. Preventive-medicine strategies can focus on the population or on individuals.
II POPULATION-BASED PROGRAMMES
Historically, the first preventive strategies were based on the finding that many diseases are transmitted by organisms, and that transmission can be stopped by public-hygiene measures such as quarantining people who are ill, removing the dead, and providing sewage systems. A major advance was the discovery that immunization protects most people against many infectious diseases.
Preventive medicine is also concerned with chronic disease and has developed such measures as screening programmes to identify individuals with high blood pressure and those who have breast or cervical cancer. Unfortunately, screening for lung cancer has not been as successful.
Governments have attempted to prevent disease by requiring greater purity of air and water and by prohibiting the use of food additives that cause cancer in animals. In such countries as the United Kingdom and the United States, they have also promoted safety in the workplace, for example, by requiring the removal of accident hazards and by limiting employees’ exposure to chemicals and radiation.
III INDIVIDUAL ACTION
Researchers in human health problems also uncover actions that people can take individually to improve their health. Primary among these are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet with a low fat content, getting sufficient sleep and regular exercise, and having periodic medical and dental examinations. Many doctors recommend reducing the intake of cholesterol and salt in the diet to cut down heart disease. Dentists have introduced the application of fluoride to children’s teeth to prevent tooth decay. Public-health officials also stress the use of seat belts in cars, especially for children. Doctors and health officials encourage people to stop smoking as the most effective way to combat the increasing occurrence of lung cancer. People are also encouraged to wear sunscreens and avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight in an effort to prevent skin cancers, although these measures have been found to be ineffective against melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Some scientists advocate the massive use of vitamin C to prevent colds and the use of vitamins A and E to prevent some cancers, but these measures remain controversial.