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A Vision of Social Justice as the Foundation of Public Health: Commemorating 150 Years of the Spirit


Social justice is the foundation of public health. This powerful proposition-still contested-first emerged around 150 years ago during the formative years of public health as both a modem movement and a profession. It is an assertion that reminds us that public
health is indeed a public matter, that societal pattems of disease and death, of health and well-being, of bodily integrity and disintegration, intimately reflect the workings of the body politic for good and for ill. It is a statement that asks us, pointedly, to remember that worldwide dramatic declines-and continued inequalities-in mortality and morbidity signal as much the victories and defeats of social movements to create a just, fair, caring, and inclusive world as they do the achievements and unresolved challenges of scientific research and technology. To declare that social justice is the foundation of public health is to call upon and nurture that invincible human spirit that led so many of us to enter the field of public health in the first place: a spirit that has a compelling desire to make the world a better place, free of misery, inequity, and preventable suffering, a world in which we all can live, love, work, play, ail, and die with our dignity intact and our humanity cherished.

Primary Toolkit:

Health Equity and Social Justice Toolkit

Keyword Area:

Environmental Justice, Health Equity, Social Justice


Institutional Author:

Nancy Krieger & Anne-Emanuelle Birn





The NACCHO Toolbox is a repository of available resources to help local public health practitioners. Tools are produced by local, state, and federal agencies, as well as academic institutions and other stakeholders. The contents of this Toolbox are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect any official recommendations of NACCHO. NACCHO makes no express or implied warranty with respect to the contents and disclaims liability for any damages arising from or connected to the use of the material in this Toolbox.