There are numerous differences between health promotion and disease prevention, but perhaps the main one is: health promotion is a general method meant to improve population health, while disease prevention is a targeted program aimed at preventing the incidence of specific disease. An example might bring this difference, and the potential overlap between the two, into clearer focus. A community exercise program (e.g., cycling or yoga) is an example of health promotion. In a broad sense, this program is aimed at improving individual’s health through daily exercise- but there are no specific interventions aimed at preventing heart disease, diabetes, or alzheimer’s. Disease prevention, on the other hand, might also exercise as one potential strategy- but there will also be more targeted interventions such as blood pressure screenings, healthy eating workshops for diabetes, and “neuroprotection” aids. Thus, while there is certainly overlap between the two categories (primarily in area of diet and exercise), their specific aims may be different, including the audience: health promotion is theoretically aimed at everyone, while disease prevention is primarily aimed at those at-risk for certain diseases.
Programs associated with both concepts are useful tools in the public health policy toolkit; they both can be used positively in promoting population health. In the case of health promotion, activities such as exercise and nutrition courses serve as a preemptive strike to promote healthy outcomes and lower the general rate of disease in the population. Disease prevention builds on the programs already established in health promotion programs: That is, for individuals that have moved from a general risk category to a more specific at-risk category (such as pre-diabetic or heart disease) disease prevention provides programs that are especially beneficial for prevention purposes. Overall, these two programs should be an integral part of any population health program, helping individuals to reach their health goals and prevent the onset of chronic disease.
Prasher, V.P. & Janicki, M.P., Lennox, L. (2002) Health promotion and disease prevention. Lonsdon: Blackwell.
HHS. Health promotion and disease prevention. Available at: http://www.hhs.gov/news/factsheet/diseaseprevention.html.