Top Public Health Issues Facing Health Officials

Improved national health care conditions can ultimately create a stronger nation, both economically and through an improved quality of life. Public health officials will be playing a large part in the health of our country this year with the identification, prevention and treatment of the public health issues facing citizens today.

A Matter of Public Health

Matters of public health have been investigated and managed for centuries, first establishing significance following the devastating effects of the bubonic plague, or Black Death, in 1348. Recognized public health initiatives were established to control the spread of the disease in 1350 A.D. Through each health issue that America has faced, the public health industry has become a crucial part of the American system of healthcare and government. In 1872, the foundation of the American Public Health Association (APHA) brought a national focus to the causes and treatments of illness, disease and other factors affecting American health. Proven public health achievements in the 20th century (smallpox eradication, improved sanitation, clean water access) increased life expectancy by 30 years and paved the way for more advanced treatments and preventative measures in the country today.

Top Public Health Issues

Although our country has made astounding advancements in medicine and public health, considerable public health challenges persevere. Some of the main health care issues facing America today include:


Diabetes, which causes abnormally high blood glucose levels, either because the body does not produce insulin (Type 1) or the body does not produce enough insulin to function properly (Type 2). A third type, gestational diabetes, affects females during pregnancy. While Type 1 diabetes is primarily genetic, Type 2 diabetes (usually closely related to obesity), can be prevented through proper diet and exercise. 25.7 million Americans (8.3% of the population) have diabetes, making it a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, limb amputation, as well as the seventh leading cause of death. Public health officials are working on diabetes prevention campaigns which promote healthier diets and active lifestyles.


Obesity is described as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, while a normal body weight rests between 18.5 and 24.9. In 1990, every state had 15 percent or less citizens who struggled with obesity; in 2000 49 states were above the 15 percent line; in 2010, every state in the country had at least a 20 percent obesity rate. Twelve states topped 30 percent, and as the number continues to climb, the cost of health care related to obesity soars, costing around $147 billion per year. Obesity is an overwhelming factor in the development of heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. While some obesity can be linked to genetics, the majority is preventable through regular exercise and intelligent diet choices. Public health officials are battling obesity issues through a variety of physical activity and healthy eating campaigns.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America today, causing around 600,000 deaths (1 in every 4 deaths) and $300 billion in cost each year. Major factors in the development of heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Some medical conditions and lifestyle habits can also influence heart disease, including diabetes, obesity, stagnant lifestyle, incorrect diet choices and alcoholism. Many heart disease prevention campaigns have been launched over the years, and most recently, the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the American Heart Association, have initiated Million Hearts, which strives to prevent 1 million strokes and heart attacks by 2022.


In the 2017 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, it was revealed that cancer death rates have continued to decline in the past 30 years. However, the rates of certain forms of cancers have remained steady or increased. The types of cancers that have shown an increase include those affecting the pancreas, liver, uterus, and brain. While cancer research has not identified the direct cause of cancer, some measures of prevention can be taken, such as limiting alcohol use, quitting smoking and using sunscreen. Additionally, maintaining a properly balanced diet and enough physical activity can also prevent certain types of cancers. Promoting initiatives such as skin cancer prevention and lung cancer awareness is becoming more common in public health.

Communicable Illness

Chronic illnesses are not the only cause for strong public health concern in America, as more commonplace communicable illnesses have proven to be just as threatening to an individual’s health. While research attempts to predict the future of health care needs, epidemics of illness can strike without warning or proper preparation. In 2012, an outbreak of meningitis brought over 720 cases and 48 deaths, as well as a wave of West Nile Virus, which caused 243 deaths out of 5,387 cases. In recent years, the influenza virus has appeared to be stronger than ever before, and while a vaccine is available, it has been ineffective with the elderly, who have a higher mortality rate from effects of the virus. In 2015, the Zika virus emerged as a new threat to international travelers, specifically pregnant women. The Zika virus, which is spread primarily by mosquito bite, but also sexual contact, has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly. Between 2015-2017, the CDC reported over 5,000 cases of Zika. Since no vaccine for Zika exists, the best forms of prevention are using mosquito repellent, practicing safe sex, and reconsidering travel to areas where outbreaks are occurring. While only hypotheses can be drawn about the next viral outbreak in America, public officials are promoting a boost in Vitamin D and Vitamin C to battle infection and illness, as well as raising awareness about preventative measures that can be taken in the face of the influenza virus.

Mental Illness

Mental Health awareness has also become an important public health issue in recent years, with officials advocating that mental health be viewed on equal terms with physical health when it comes to public perception and public policy. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffers from mental illness in a given year. Often, mental health problems are factors in other public health issues like homelessness, substance abuse, gun violence and suicide. Ensuring that mental illness is covered in any federal or state health care legislation is an important step in ensuring progress in this area.     

Awareness and Prevention

Public health officials are charged with promoting awareness to assist in the prevention of health issues, in addition to the research and promotion of treatment measures. America is continuing to struggle with health issues, including diabetes, obesity and cancer, in which prevention can ultimately affect health status There is an urgent calling now, more than ever, for qualified health care and public health professionals to join forces in the battle against illness and disease in America and to create conditions in which health for all can be achieved.

As the demand for public health services continues to grow, obtaining a Masters degree in Public Health from Creighton University Online is a valuable way to improve a current career or transition into a new one. The school combines a passion for learning with a zeal for making a difference, and the MPH program at Creighton University Online encourages student to merge their own passion for health of the public with the ability to help serve those at risk in their communities.