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The Top Public Health Issues Medical Experts Are Working to Solve

Published on: July 14, 2022

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health is a topic at the forefront of many of our minds. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is far from the only public health emergency that we are currently facing. Today, there is a broad range of public health issues that medical experts are working tirelessly to solve. In this article, we'll explore these issues as well as the public health solutions that are in progress.

Noncommunicable Diseases

Noncommunicable diseases are defined as any disease that cannot be spread from person to person. While easier to control than communicable diseases, noncommunicable diseases can still be quite difficult to treat and are top causes of death. Some of the most pressing noncommunicable diseases that we face today include:

Heart Disease and Stroke 

Heart disease/stroke remains the number one cause of death in the United States and has been so for quite some time. While sometimes caused by genetic factors, lifestyle choices such as poor diet and a lack of exercise are the primary cause of most cardiovascular conditions. Along with raising public awareness about the importance of proper diet and exercise, new medications and advancements in surgical procedures are the main ways medical professionals are combating this public health emergency.

Type 2 Diabetes

Likewise caused by both genetics and lifestyle factors, type 2 diabetes is the nation's seventh-leading cause of death and claims around 88,000 lives each year. Along with success in raising awareness about the risks of obesity, promising advancements have been made in treatments for type 2 diabetes.

Cancer

There are more than 100 different types of cancer, ranging from those that are highly treatable to types that are almost impossible to treat. Each year, cancer causes about 600,000 deaths in the United States, making it the second-leading cause of death in the country. A cure for cancer remains the holy grail of modern medicine, but targeted treatments for a wide variety of cancer types have come a long way over the past decade.

Alzheimer's Disease

One out of every three senior citizens dies with Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, and Alzheimer's disease is a condition that affects approximately 6 million Americans of all ages. The fact that Alzheimer's disease rates are on the rise make it among the most concerning of our current public health issues. While there is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease, new treatments to slow its symptoms have been effective, and work toward a cure continues every day.

Communicable Diseases

Communicable diseases are defined as any disease that is transmissible from person to person. While typically not as life-threatening as the most serious noncommunicable diseases, these transmissible diseases are much more difficult to control and can impact entire populations at once. Today, some of the top public health issues regarding communicable diseases include:

Influenza and COVID-19

We are all well aware of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the world. While vaccines have been extremely effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a top public health emergency. Long before COVID-19 came along, though, influenza (also known as "the flu") was claiming 12,000-52,000 lives per year — and influenza remains a clear and present danger even as we continue to grapple with COVID-19.

HIV

Though not as serious of a crisis as it was at the height of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, HIV is a disease that affects approximately 1.2 million people in the United States. There is still no cure for HIV, but advancements in treatments along with rising awareness about the importance of safe sexual practices have dramatically reduced this disease's death toll.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccines are by far our most effective line of defense against many types of communicable diseases. However, misinformation that is largely spread online has led a large portion of people to believe false and dangerous narratives regarding vaccines. This vaccine hesitancy creates a risk for everyone since it allows contagious diseases to spread and mutate more easily throughout a population. For this reason, combating vaccine misinformation and dispelling vaccine hesitancy is one of the most important objectives for medical professionals and public health officials.

Antimicrobial Resistance

In the time since penicillin was invented in 1928, antibiotics have saved countless lives. Over the decades, though, the same process of natural selection that gave rise to the incredible range of biodiversity we see today has also allowed many microorganisms to evolve with resistance to antibiotic treatments, making them far more difficult to treat. In response to this public health emergency, the CDC created the Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Solutions Initiative, designed to detect, respond, contain and prevent resistant infections.

Healthcare-Associated Infections 

Hospitals and clinics are places where lots of sick people congregate, creating a high risk of healthcare-associated infections. Today, 1 in 25 US hospital patients is diagnosed with at least one infection related to hospital care — and this doesn't even take into account infections related to visiting a doctor's office or clinic. Medical professionals and hospital staff alike are instructed to follow a long list of rigorous measures designed to reduce healthcare-associated infections, but they remain a difficult public health issue.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can come in a variety of forms and create an equally wide variety of public health issues. It's also an issue that is on the rise in the United States and one that many experts are calling a public health emergency. Some of the top issues created by substance abuse include:

Alcohol-Related Injury/Illness

The NHTSA states that about 32 people in the United States are killed each day due to drunk driving accidents. Along with drunk driving accidents, alcohol consumption also increases the risk of many other injuries and deaths, including deaths and injuries related to falls, violence, drowning, house fires and much more. Alcohol-related illness, meanwhile, is a category that encompasses a wide range of conditions, including alcohol addiction, alcohol poisoning and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Tobacco Use

More than 480,000 people die from tobacco use each year, including 41,000 people per year who die due to exposure to secondhand smoke. Cigarettes aren't the only threat either, with tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, cigars and hookahs all creating increased risk for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including many forms of cancer. Vaping, meanwhile, is a practice that has recently exploded in popularity, particularly among the youth. While vaping is thought to be safer than other forms of tobacco use, medical experts caution that we are still unsure of its long-term effects.

Prescription Drug Overdose

In 2021, nearly 108,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses. While many of these overdoses are caused by illegal drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, many others are caused by prescription drugs obtained legally. Opiate painkillers are an especially common cause of prescription drug overdose, and today's physicians take careful measures to prevent opiate addiction in their patients. With few other options for managing severe or chronic pain, though, the root cause of what many proclaim is among our most pressing public health issues remains an unavoidable consequence of modern healthcare.

Mental Health Issues

It seems as if mental health issues may finally be starting to get the attention that they deserve. In many ways, though, it's far too late. Issues related to mental illness and other types of mental health issues have been on the rise across the board. Nearly 800,000 people in the United States die each year from suicide, and suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds. For millions of others, suffering due to mental health issues can come in any number of forms. Today, some of the top public health issues regarding mental health include:

Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, affecting about 18.1% of US adults. Along with reducing quality of life, excess stress and anxiety can increase a person's risk for a broad range of mental and physical conditions.

Social Isolation

An increased prevalence of social isolation is one of the biggest issues facing modern society. Social media was designed to bring people closer together, but many people have been left feeling more alone than ever, lacking physical interactions and the social web necessary for a healthy, satisfying life. The consequences of this are sometimes much more serious than dissatisfaction, as social isolation is often the primary cause of both suicide and acts of violence.

Violence and Trauma

Violent or traumatic experiences can create long-lasting mental health issues. Commonly associated with soldiers returning from combat, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can impact anyone who has experienced a violent or otherwise traumatic episode. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, 6% of the population suffers from PTSD.

Socioeconomic and Lifestyle Issues

Public health has complex connections to a broad net of socioeconomic and lifestyle issues. Many times, therefore, the best public health solutions come in the form of social change and policy rather than medical invention. Today, some of the top socioeconomic and lifestyle issues impacting public health include:

Disparities in Healthcare Access and Outcomes

Modern healthcare continues to advance, but it also continues to grow more expensive. In 2020, 31.6 million people in the United States did not have health insurance. Disparities in healthcare access and outcomes can be especially impactful to certain communities, including both minority communities and rural communities. Along with efforts to make healthcare/health insurance more accessible and affordable, advancements in telemedicine show promise for helping alleviate this issue by lowering the cost of common medical services and making them more convenient.

Food Insecurity

Rising prices and global shortages have only exaggerated what was already a serious issue even in a country as wealthy as the United States. Approximately 23.5 million people in the United States live in what is known as a "food desert," defined as a geographical area where access to healthy, affordable food is either limited or nonexistent. While deaths due to starvation in the United States are exceedingly rare and are almost always due to either neglect or severe mental illness, this is not the case worldwide. Across the globe, starvation claims about 9 million lives each year.

Poor Nutrition and Lack of Exercise

Many of the diseases that are a leading cause of death in the United States — including heart disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer — are often a direct result of poor diet and exercise. Today, about 42% of the US population is obese, a rate much higher than comparable developed countries. While as a society we have made a lot of progress in recent years highlighting their importance, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise remains one of our leading public health issues.

Teen Pregnancy

Teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline for the past few decades, going from 61.8 births per thousand females aged 15-19 in 1990 to 17.4 births per thousand in 2018. Nevertheless, providing education on safe sexual practices and access to birth control is still an important public health priority.

Motor Vehicle Injuries

In 2021, traffic fatalities reached a 16-year high, claiming a total of 42,915 lives. Along with these fatalities, it is estimated that an additional 4.4 million Americans each year are injured seriously enough in a motor vehicle accident to require medical attention.

Environmental Hazards

Most environmental issues are also public health issues. Today, a frighteningly wide variety of pollutants and toxins due to industrial waste create a number of public health issues for communities across the globe. Climate change, meanwhile, threatens to worsen many of the world's biggest public health problems.

Pollutants and Toxins

Pollutants and toxins due to industrial waste and chemical use can leach into the water, air, and foods that we eat, creating a large number of health problems. According to the WHO, 9 out of every 10 people in the world are breathing polluted air. While the United States ranks well for air quality compared to most countries, US citizens can still be exposed to pollutants and toxins due to many forms of industrial waste. In 2019, there were 62,300 deaths in the United States attributable to air pollution alone.

Climate Change

The impacts of climate change have the potential to create serious public health issues. According to the CDC, disruptions to ecological systems created by climate change can lead to public health issues such as "increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food, and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases and threats to mental health."

Conclusion

Reading an article discussing all of the top public health issues facing our country can be quite a gloomy affair. The good news is that there is still time to find solutions to all of these issues, and talented, dedicated people all over the globe are working hard to do so every single day.

At Husson University, we are committed to training and educating the next generation of leaders to tackle society's most pressing challenges. With our online Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration and Public Health program, you can receive the education you need to join the political, medical and business professionals seeking to develop new public health solutions.

If you are interested in earning your Master of Public Health, feel free to request more info or fill out an online application today!

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