Have You Ever?

Before each school year starts, you likely visit your pediatrician for a check-up that includes vaccinations. You probably dread the shots, and all the while, wonder, “I don’t know anyone who has ever had polio. Why do I need a shot for this?”

Here’s Why

Regularly scheduled vaccinations are just one of many recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers also release research-based guidelines for preventing other leading causes of death, like infectious diseases, heart disease, and diabetes. Thanks to their efforts, schools, businesses, and other communities can take effective measures to maintain public health and safety. 

Definition: CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC is a public health agency in America. Part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC conducts medical research, releases public health recommendations and statistics, and detects and mitigates potential health crises. The institute uses these tools and methods to improve the nation’s health security. 

About the CDC

Established in Georgia in 1946, the Communicable Disease Center originally worked to stop the spread of malaria. The agency’s scope grew to include sexually transmitted diseases during the 60s and 70s. It was given its current name in 1980, and the CDC now concerns itself with everything from chronic diseases and disabilities to workplace and environmental health hazards.

The President appoints a Director to lead the CDC. The agency has five main sectors: Occupational Health & Safety, Public Health Service & Implementation Science, Public Health Science & Surveillance, Non-Infectious Diseases, and Infectious Diseases. Within each of the five main sectors, specific offices are dedicated to urgent or widespread public health issues that require additional attention and resources. Some examples include the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. This nested specialization allows the CDC to respond to emerging health threats.

Why Care?

The CDC is responsible for communicating existing and emerging public health information to the public; this information originates from studies conducted in more than two hundred laboratories spread throughout the country. The CDC is not the only health-oriented government agency, but it is largely responsible for providing the nation with public health information.

While the CDC has championed many public health achievements, the agency often faces criticism for its efforts. For example, childhood obesity is a prominent issue in the United States, and the CDC has issued recommendations for how children can increase their cardiovascular fitness. However, a study showed that these recommendations were not sustainable through middle school. Furthermore, because the CDC is a government organization, it’s prone to partisan disputes, which can negatively affect its research.  In the 1990s, after the agency found that the presence of a firearm in a home increased the risk of firearm-related homicide and suicide, the CDC’s funding for gun research was cut. In general, critics attack the institute for being too slow and contradictory with its information, citing the organization’s failure with the AIDS crisis. During the outbreak, the CDC propagated harmful notions that the disease only affects homosexuals and drug users, which led to thousands of preventable deaths, and the reversals of such statements came too late. Meanwhile, advocates state that reporting on emerging health issues will inevitably lead to misinterpretation, and updating guidelines in light of new information is what a reliable agency should do. 

The CDC influences health agencies at the federal and state level, but it doesn’t have much authority in the local spheres. Furthermore, the CDC only offers guidelines and advice, which come highly recommended but not mandated. Therefore, officials and leaders don’t have to listen. If you spot a public health crisis where you live, try searching the CDC for information on how to mitigate and manage the situation. Maybe you even can convince your community to follow the CDC’s guidelines.

    Learn More

    1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, USA.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/.
    2. Seibert, T. S., Allen, D. B., Eickhoff, J., & Carrel, A. L. (2018). CDC childhood physical activity strategies fail to show sustained fitness impact in middle school children. Preventive medicine reports, 12, 60–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.08.007.
    3. Tappero, J. W., Cassell, C. H., Bunnell, R. E., Angulo, F. J., Craig, A., Pesik, N., Dahl, B. A., Ijaz, K., Jafari, H., Martin, R., & Global Health Security Science Group (2017). US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Its Partners’ Contributions to Global Health Security. Emerging infectious diseases, 23(13), S5–S14. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2313.170946.

    Think Further

    1. What do you think is the biggest current health issue the CDC should focus on? Why?
    2. How can the CDC keep the public updated on health issues and concerns? What specific methods should it use?
    3. What are some benefits of the CDC’s current structuring? What are some problems? 

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