Since early 2020, our world has been grappling with a devastating global pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 has caused an estimated 2.5 million deaths around the globe. Nearly half a million of those losses were in the United States alone. Even more, the coronavirus has infected roughly 28 million Americans and over 110 million people worldwide. At its worst moments, it has overwhelmed our healthcare facilities and workers. While infectious disease experts continue to learn about new strains and treatment options, the COVID-19 pandemic is a top public health concern of 2021. However, it is not the only one.
Every day, there are health epidemics affecting our populations. Some of these public health concerns have been made even more challenging thanks to COVID-19. While the novel coronavirus continues to take center stage, issues like climate change, opioid abuse, and childhood obesity continue to impact our society. These public health issues have not taken a break during the pandemic. Some have escalated. However, there is good news. Thanks to the advancements of modern medicine and rapid technology, progress is being made. Research is being done. Treatment plans are being implemented, and lives are being saved. Public health professionals are the ones to thank for this improvement.
Whether you have always been interested in making a difference, or the public health problems of our day have inspired you, you may be considering a future in this field of work. Before diving into public health, though, you likely want to know what you can expect both short- and long-term. What types of issues will you tackle in a public health career? Where can you make the most impact? Which demographics are most in need? Whose life can you improve?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the following are among the top public health problems of modern day:
The ongoing pandemic remains front and center for public health officials. The deadly virus has put the entire world in a state of emergency. The CDC continues to provide guidance on precautions like mask-wearing, social distancing, and other preventative practices. Healthcare professionals have come out of retirement and traveled to areas with high case counts, to help fight this disease. Thanks to the diligent work of scientists and public health researchers, multiple vaccines have been developed and are helping to curb the infection rate. President Biden has also been working to increase the number of vaccines available, and expects all Americans to have access by August 2021.
- Mental Health Conditions
One of the many unfortunate side effects of the pandemic has been a decline in our mental health. Quarantines, remote work, and distance learning have impacted people of all ages. With tight restrictions on social gatherings, many people are experiencing severe feelings of isolation and distress. In fact, the rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise, which is largely due to social isolation and loneliness. According to Forbes, 70 percent of teens are currently struggling with mental health issues. 60 percent of youth and adults are not getting the mental health treatment they need. As more people need mental health services, we can expect to see a growing demand for public health and mental health workers.
- Alcohol & Substance Abuse
Much like mental health, substance abuse is another growing concern. This was among the top public health problems before the pandemic started, but it has only been amplified in the days of self-isolation. Studies report that, since the enactment of stay-at-home orders, suspected overdoses have increased 18 percent. According to the CDC, 40 percent of U.S. adults report struggling with mental health or substance abuse.
Comedian John Mulaney is one example of this growing concern. He made headlines in December of 2020 when he checked into rehab after years of sobriety. The former SNL-writer attributed the recent struggles to the pandemic. Mulaney is certainly not alone.
- Food Safety
Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food, and 3,000 die from this cause. Due to this constant, potential public health threat, the CDC tracks food borne illnesses and works with the FDA to ensure proper food safety practices. Public health professionals that specialize in food safety and inspection are also in high demand.
- Healthcare-Associated Infections
We know that hospitals help patients recover and heal from illnesses and injuries, but we don’t always think about the healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) that can come from treatment. These can be caused by the devices used in medical procedures, like catheters or ventilators. They can also happen at surgery sites, known as surgical site infections.
While significant progress has been made in preventing some of these HAIs, there is much more work to be done. According to the CDC, on any given day, about 1 in 31 patients has at least one HAI.
- Heart Disease and Stroke
According to the American Heart Association’s latest findings, heart disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. Experts predict that the broad influence of the COVID-19 pandemic will extend that ranking for years to come. Specifically, they anticipate that the global burden of cardiovascular disease will grow exponentially over the next few years, as part of the evolving long-term effects of coronavirus. Naturally, this means that heart health is among the top public health concerns for physicians and public health workers today.
There have been enormous strides made in the treatment and prevention of HIV, but there are still millions who die each year from HIV/AIDS. As COVID-19 vaccines were being developed in 2020, many health experts warned that vaccines can take years to come to fruition. The most popular comparison was made with the promised vaccine for HIV many years ago. To this day, there is no vaccine that helps prevent the virus or treat those infected. Scientists continue to work to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine.
According to the WHO, more than 70 million people have contracted the infection since the epidemic first broke out, and about 33 million have died as a result. Today, there are around 38 million people living with HIV who may need support. Approximately 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV in the U.S. today, and about 14 percent of them – that’s 1 in 7 – don’t know it and need testing.
- Motor Vehicle Injuries
Distracted driving, drunk driving, and vehicle safety are among the top concerns for safety on the road, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As a result, policies surrounding seatbelt usage, proper car seat installation and usage, and driver’s license testing continue to be ranked among the top public health concerns.
- Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
Our nutrition and physical activity is another public health issue that has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was among the top public health problems before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus – with the CDC reporting obesity effects 93.3 million American adults and more than 13.7 million children – but those numbers will likely grow significantly in the near future. A global study, published in the journal Obesity, found that lockdowns related to the pandemic led to dramatic changes in health behaviors, prompting people around the world to cut back on physical activity and eat more junk foods.
This is a serious health concern for public health professionals, since obesity increases the risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, blood pressure, and heart disease. Obesity is also considered a high-risk factor for COVID-19.
The good news is that, over the years, the rise of obesity has led to more awareness and education surrounding proper nutrition and physical activity. Public health educators have been paving the way for better nutrition and deepened self-care in communities.
- Prescription Drug Overdose
The drug overdose epidemic – primarily driven by opioid abuse – has killed more than 750,000 people since 1999. Two out of three of the drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and announced a strategy to help combat the problem.
As noted above, experts are seeing a rise in substance abuse and drug overdoses since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lockdown orders have increased feelings of boredom, which in turn has increased the risk of substance abuse. In addition, with many people at home alone, there is a higher risk of overdosing without anyone knowing or being there to call for help.
You Can Help Tackle These Public Health Problems
If you would like to undertake these public health concerns and make a difference in the lives of others, now is the time. In 2021, the work of public health professionals is needed more than ever before. If you are ready to mask up and step up to help others, you can start right here at Goodwin. Goodwin University offers a bachelor’s degree program, as well as a master’s degree program, in public health. Public health graduates find exciting and rewarding careers, such as:
- Community Health Workers
- Disaster Preparedness Coordinators
- Environmental Health Specialists
- Health Educators
- Health Promotion Specialists
- Public Health Program Coordinators
- Research Assistants
- Disaster and Emergency Specialists
- Public Health Directors (MPH)
- Epidemiologists (MPH)
- Sanitarians (MPH)
- Biostaticians (MPH)
Our public health programs are flexible. Classes are offered days, nights, and weekends, too. Students may choose to study online, on campus, or a hybrid of the two. We understand that working toward a degree does not mean a break in your daily life, so you can work toward your career goals while still maintaining a job and personal obligations.
If you would like to learn more about the Public Health degree programs at Goodwin University, call 800-889-3282, or visit us online to request more information.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.