Pyramids tend to be easy to understand and work well to capture tiered concepts. For these reasons, pyramids have been used to depict the tiered nature of primary healthcare, secondary healthcare, and tertiary healthcare services (U.S. Public Health Service, 1994), the inverse relationship of effort needed and health impact of different interventions (Frieden, 2010), and nutrition recommendations (Gil, Ruiz-Lopez, Fernandez-Gonzalez, & de Victoria, 2014).

The public health pyramid is divided into four sections (FIGURE 1-2). The top, or the first, section of the pyramid contains direct healthcare services, such as medical care, psychological counseling, hospital care, and pharmacy services. At this level of the pyramid, programs are delivered to individuals, whether patients, clients, or even students. Generally, programs at the direct services level have a direct, and often relatively immediate, effect on individual participants in the health program. Direct services of these types appear at the tip of the pyramid to reflect that, overall, the smallest proportion of a population receives them. These interventions, according to the Health Impact Pyramid (Frieden, 2010), require considerable effort, with minimal population effects.

FIGURE 1-2 The Public Health Pyramid

At the second level of the pyramid are enabling services, which are those health and social services that support or enhance the health of aggregates. Aggregates are used to distinguish between individuals and populations; they are groups of individuals who share a defining characteristic, such as mental illness or a terminal disease. Examples of enabling services include mental health drop-in centers, hospice programs, financial assistance programs that provide transportation to medical care, community-based case management for patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), low-income housing, nutrition education programs provided by schools, and workplace child care centers. As this list of programs demonstrates, the services at this level may directly or indirectly contribute to the health of individuals, families, and communities and are provided to aggregates. Enabling services can also be thought of as addressing some of the consequences of social determinants of health.

The next, more encompassing level of the public health pyramid is population-based services. At the population level of the pyramid, services are delivered to an entire population, such as all persons residing in a city, state, or country. Examples of population services include immunization programs for all children in a county, newborn screening for all infants born in a state, food safety inspections carried out under the auspices of state regulations, workplace safety programs, nutrition labeling on food, and the Medicaid program for pregnant women whose incomes fall below the federal poverty guidelines. As this list reflects, the distinction between an aggregate and a population can be blurry. Programs at this level typically are intended to reach an entire population, sometimes without the conscious involvement of individuals. In this sense, individuals receive a population-based health program, such as water fluoridation, rather than participating in the program, as they would in a smoking-cessation class. Interventions and programs aimed at changing the socioeconomic context within which populations live would be included at this population level of the pyramid. Such programs are directed at changing one or more social determinants of health. Population-level programs contribute to the health of individuals and, cumulatively, to the health status of the population.

Supporting the pyramid at its base is the infrastructure of the healthcare system and the public health system. The health services at the other pyramid levels would not be possible unless there were skilled, knowledgeable health professionals; laws and regulations pertinent to the health of the people; quality assurance and improvement programs; leadership and managerial oversight; health planning and program evaluation; information systems; and technological resources. The planning and evaluation of health programs at the direct, enabling, and population services levels is itself a component of the infrastructure; these are infrastructure activities. In addition, planning programs to address problems of the infrastructure, as well as to evaluate the infrastructure itself, are needed to keep the health and public health system infrastructure strong, stable, and supportive of the myriad of health programs.

Use of the Public Health Pyramid in Program Planning and Evaluation
Health programs exist across the pyramid levels, and evaluations of these programs are needed. However, at each level of the pyramid, certain issues unique to that level must be addressed in developing health programs. Accordingly, the types of health professionals and the types of expertise needed vary by pyramid level, reinforcing the need to match program, participants, and providers appropriately. Similarly, each level of the pyramid is characterized by unique challenges for evaluating programs. For this reason, the public health pyramid, as a framework, helps illuminate those differences, issues, and challenges, as well as to reinforces that health programs are needed across the pyramid levels if the Healthy People 2020 goals and objectives are to be achieved.

In a more general sense, the public health pyramid provides reminders that various aggregates of potential audiences exist for any health problem and program and that health programs are needed across the pyramid. Depending on the health discipline and the environment in which the planning is being done, direct service programs may be the natural or only inclination. The public health pyramid, however, provides a framework for balancing the level of the program with meeting the needs of the broadest number of people with a given need. Reaching the same number of persons with a direct services program as with a population services program poses additional expense and logistic challenges.

The pyramid also serves as a reminder that stakeholder alignments and allegiances may be specific to a level of the pyramid. For example, a school health program (an enabling-level program) has a different set of constituents and concerned stakeholders than a highway safety program (a population-level program). The savvy program planner considers not only the potential program participants at each level of the pyramid but also the stakeholders who are likely to make themselves known during the planning process.

The public health pyramid has particular relevance for public health agencies concerned with addressing the three core functions of public health (Institute of Medicine, 1988): assessment, assurance, and policy. These core functions are evident, in varying forms, at each level of the pyramid. Similarly, the pyramid can be applied to the strategic plans of organizations in the private healthcare sector. For optimal health program planning, each health program being developed or implemented ought to be considered in terms of its relationship to services, programs, and health needs at other levels of the pyramid. For all these reasons, the public health pyramid is used throughout this text as a framework for summarizing specific issues and applications of chapter content to each level of the pyramid and to identify and discuss potential or real issues related to the topic of the chapter.

The Public Health Pyramid as an Ecological Model
Individual behavior and health are now understood to be influenced by the social and physical environment of individuals. This recognition is reflected in the growing use of the ecological approach to health services and public health programs. The ecological approach, which stems from systems theory applied to individuals and families (Bronfenbrenner, 1970, 1989), postulates that individuals can be influenced by factors in their immediate social and physical environment. This perspective has been expanded into the social determinants perspective in public health, which has wide acceptance (Frieden, 2010). The individual is viewed as a member of an intimate social network, usually a family, which is a member of a larger social network, such as a neighborhood or community. The way in which individuals are nested within these social networks has consequences for the health of the individual.

Because it distinguishes and recognizes the importance of enabling and population services, the public health pyramid can be integrated with an ecological view of health and health problems. If one were to look down on the pyramid from above, the levels would appear as concentric circles (FIGURE 1-3)—direct services for individuals nested within enabling services for families, aggregates, and neighborhoods, which are in turn nested within population services for all residents of cities, states, or countries. This is similar to individuals being nested within the enabling environment of their family, workplace setting, or neighborhood, all of which are nested within the population environment of factors such as social norms and economic and political environments. The infrastructure of the healthcare system and public health system is the foundation and supporting environment for promoting health and preventing illnesses and diseases.

FIGURE 1-3 The Pyramid as an Ecological Model

The end of the chapter presents a summary of challenges or issues related to applying the chapter content to each level of the pyramid. This feature reinforces the message that each level of the pyramid has value and importance to health program planning and evaluation. In addition, certain unique challenges are specific to each level of the pyramid. The chapter summary by levels offers an opportunity to acknowledge and address the issues related to the levels.

Sample solution

Dante Alighieri played a critical role in the literature world through his poem Divine Comedy that was written in the 14th century. The poem contains Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The Inferno is a description of the nine circles of torment that are found on the earth. It depicts the realms of the people that have gone against the spiritual values and who, instead, have chosen bestial appetite, violence, or fraud and malice. The nine circles of hell are limbo, lust, gluttony, greed and wrath. Others are heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. The purpose of this paper is to examine the Dante’s Inferno in the perspective of its portrayal of God’s image and the justification of hell. 

In this epic poem, God is portrayed as a super being guilty of multiple weaknesses including being egotistic, unjust, and hypocritical. Dante, in this poem, depicts God as being more human than divine by challenging God’s omnipotence. Additionally, the manner in which Dante describes Hell is in full contradiction to the morals of God as written in the Bible. When god arranges Hell to flatter Himself, He commits egotism, a sin that is common among human beings (Cheney, 2016). The weakness is depicted in Limbo and on the Gate of Hell where, for instance, God sends those who do not worship Him to Hell. This implies that failure to worship Him is a sin.

God is also depicted as lacking justice in His actions thus removing the godly image. The injustice is portrayed by the manner in which the sodomites and opportunists are treated. The opportunists are subjected to banner chasing in their lives after death followed by being stung by insects and maggots. They are known to having done neither good nor bad during their lifetimes and, therefore, justice could have demanded that they be granted a neutral punishment having lived a neutral life. The sodomites are also punished unfairly by God when Brunetto Lattini is condemned to hell despite being a good leader (Babor, T. F., McGovern, T., & Robaina, K. (2017). While he commited sodomy, God chooses to ignore all the other good deeds that Brunetto did.

Finally, God is also portrayed as being hypocritical in His actions, a sin that further diminishes His godliness and makes Him more human. A case in point is when God condemns the sin of egotism and goes ahead to commit it repeatedly. Proverbs 29:23 states that “arrogance will bring your downfall, but if you are humble, you will be respected.” When Slattery condemns Dante’s human state as being weak, doubtful, and limited, he is proving God’s hypocrisy because He is also human (Verdicchio, 2015). The actions of God in Hell as portrayed by Dante are inconsistent with the Biblical literature. Both Dante and God are prone to making mistakes, something common among human beings thus making God more human.

To wrap it up, Dante portrays God is more human since He commits the same sins that humans commit: egotism, hypocrisy, and injustice. Hell is justified as being a destination for victims of the mistakes committed by God. The Hell is presented as being a totally different place as compared to what is written about it in the Bible. As a result, reading through the text gives an image of God who is prone to the very mistakes common to humans thus ripping Him off His lofty status of divine and, instead, making Him a mere human. Whether or not Dante did it intentionally is subject to debate but one thing is clear in the poem: the misconstrued notion of God is revealed to future generations.



Babor, T. F., McGovern, T., & Robaina, K. (2017). Dante’s inferno: Seven deadly sins in scientific publishing and how to avoid them. Addiction Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, 267.

Cheney, L. D. G. (2016). Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno: A Comparative Study of Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Stradano, and Federico Zuccaro. Cultural and Religious Studies4(8), 487.

Verdicchio, M. (2015). Irony and Desire in Dante’s” Inferno” 27. Italica, 285-297.