To improve the average level of health in a population is to improve population health in the most narrow sense of the term, or alternatively, to make an improvement in what Verweij and Dawson refer to as the aggregative dimension of population health. This goal reflects the plausible idea that public health activities should aim to benefit the individuals in the relevant population, and the more these people are benefited the better.

 

However, it is less clear in what way the individuals should be benefited, that is, in what dimension or dimensions. For example, to suggest that public health should promote or maintain individual health is far from sufficient. To prevent disease and injury (to reduce morbidity) is a second way in which public health should benefit people and to prolong people’s lives (to reduce mortality) is a third possibility.

 

There are more views than these of what the relevant individual outcomes should be, for example, empowerment (people’s ability to control the determinants of health or to make healthy choices), responsibility, autonomy, dignity, integrity, well-being (quality of life) or health-related quality of life. In short, it is an open question how exactly public health should benefit the individuals in the relevant population, that is, what individual ‘health outcome’ it should aim to improve or maximize.