Current Public Health Challenges in 2021

You’ve probably been thinking a great deal about your own health.You may also be worrying about the health of others around the globe over the past year. We continue to be faced with numerous health challenges in 2021. This is due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. This health crisis has been at the forefront of our minds and our daily lives. However, there are many other longstanding public health concerns.

What exactly is public health? Why is it important? The science of public health is aimed at improving the health and well-being of populations through research. They also tackle health policies and targeted outreach and educational programs. These initiatives strive to provide equal support. They aim to deliver quality healthcare services to diverse population groups. Let’s consider how these measures can best be applied. Three of our most pressing public health concerns include COVID-19, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

What are the Most Common Public Health Issues?

There have been a lot of medical and technological advances recently. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a life expectancy of only 78.6 years for the U.S. population in 2018. Did you know that COVID-19 was only the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020?. Heart disease and cancer remain the two most common causes of death in our country. This is in spite of the more than 500,000 deaths from the pandemic. Other leading causes of mortality include unintentional injuries, chronic respiratory diseases, and stroke. We also include Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. Despite what people say, common diseases like influenza and pneumonia also devastated the population. People with underlying conditions are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. These diseases include cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This has compounded a longstanding problem. We are still struggling in preventing and treating these prevalent non-communicable diseases.

How Can We Prevent these Public Health Threats?


The COVID-19 pandemic has been the primary focus of global health initiatives. We have paid close attention to this since the worldwide outbreak occurred. These times have been a prolonged period of uncertainty, isolation, and quarantine. They have been extremely stressful and disruptive to all aspects of our lives. The statistics about the numbers of people who have contracted this virus are grim. The tremendous death tolls have been eye-opening. It is as if we are paying attention for the first time. We have become keenly aware of the urgency to follow strict public health policies and guidelines.

The CDC recommendations for the prevention of COVID-19 have become all too familiar. However, they are still very much necessary. We have been told to wash our hands frequently with soap and water. They have also recommended the use of hand sanitizers. We try to limit touching our faces. Above all, we have been instructed to wear a mask when we are out in public. We must try to avoid crowds and stay 6 feet apart from other people. There has been recent availability of vaccines to prevent COVID-19. Because of this, we have finally begun to see an end in sight.

We have been constantly assured of the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines. However, some people remain hesitant about being vaccinated. There are many benefits to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. This includes being able to socialize more with other people who have been vaccinated. There are also less chances of infecting others. If you do get infected, you will only have milder symptoms. The important takeaway message is that not only are your chances of getting sick reduced. You are also protecting your community from virus transmission. The goal is to attain herd immunity. This happens when enough people become immune to a disease. This can happen either through vaccination or prior illness. 

Cardiovascular Disease

According to the CDC, there is an epidemic of heart disease and stroke in the United States. This constitutes a major public health threat. This has occurred as a result of people living longer. There is also a continued increase in obesity and diabetes. Younger adults are of particular concern. Many of them are also being affected by heart disease. Many adults between the ages 35-64 are at risk for heart disease. This is because most of them are obese or have high blood pressure. Moreover, almost half of all Americans have at least three main risk factors for heart disease. This includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent heart disease. This involves improving your heart health. It’s important to be educated about the causes and symptoms of heart disease. We must also know your individual risk factors. The CDC highlights four key strategies to combat heart disease. First, we must eliminate smoking. Next, we must find ways to manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Third, it is important to follow a heart-healthy diet. And finally we must increase our physical activity. Medications may also be effective for controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. This is why regular medical check-ups are necessary. This is so that we may evaluate this option. The amount of sleep you get is another consideration. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, having 6-8 hours of sleep each night is optimal.

Stroke is another major cause of death and disability in the United States. Advancing age is a significant risk factor. This is because the chances of having a stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55. Similar to heart disease, younger people are having more strokes. This is due to the rise in high blood pressure and diabetes. Stroke is also a preventable condition. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a healthy lifestyle. We recommend choosing foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. In addition, we must also limit our salt intake. Eating foods high in fiber, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended. Obesity increases the risk for stroke. Therefore, we must maintain a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise. This is a crucial step for prevention.

A public health initiative for heart disease was instituted by the CDC in 2010. This Public Health Action Plan to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke was aimed at developing collaborative efforts. This was to be between public health experts and key stakeholders. They aim to address risk factors and early detection. Prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease are also a priority. This has been continued with Healthy People 2020. This project focuses on additional ways to improve cardiovascular health. It also aims to reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke.


Cancer has had a huge impact on public health in the U.S. This stems from the high death rates. The economic costs and the repercussions of long-term cancer treatment and survivorship also takes a toll. Public health initiatives have been targeted towards cancer. This is because cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country. Population cancer surveillance data is utilized to plan and implement various preventive measures. Primary prevention includes efforts aimed at smoking and colon cancer screening. Secondary prevention is also called early detection. This refers to methods such as mammography screening. It also includes  identifying early stage lung cancers. Cancer survivorship and other health outcomes depend on a lot of factors. This includes its diagnosis, treatment, progression and recurrence. These are known as tertiary prevention.  It’s been estimated that 30-50% of cancers. This could be prevented by lessening exposure to tobacco and other cancer-causing substances. We must also maintain a healthy body weight. Following cancer screening recommendations is also a great idea.

Both research studies and cancer control programs are important. They have been instrumental in addressing cancer-related issues. The National Cancer Institute is a major supporter of research efforts. These efforts pertain to public health and cancer control. Cancer registries have been established for clinical and laboratory research. This is to increase the understanding of the disease. It also helps better manage disparities in cancer care. The National Cancer Control Program was established in 1998. Its aim was to further prevention strategies. They also try to reduce the impact of cancer in the community. These are similar to the main goals of Healthy People 2020. They hope to decrease the number of new cancer cases. They will intend to minimize disability and death rates from cancer.

There have been numerous future public health research in cancer. They are focused on ways to identify and modify individual and community behaviors. This is in the hopes of informing health policies and practices in a timely and effective manner. These initiatives are expected to reduce cancer incidence and risk. It will hopefully lower the rate of mortality due to cancer. They also aim to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and the public at large. The population in the country continues to age. Therefore, cancer will continue to be a major public health concern.

The field of public health will continue to evolve. This is in response to both longstanding and novel threats to our health. Undoubtedly, the essential nature of public health guidance and recommendations are important. They have been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proactive approaches, educational programs, and continued research are needed. This is to prevent disease and develop more effective treatments. We hope to implement health policies that adequately address these issues. We must also talk about disparities in health care delivery. In turn, these efforts will bring about much needed reforms. We can then look forward to reaping the benefits of improvements in health outcomes. This will be evident in our own communities and around the world.

Written by:
Alice Schluger, PhD
Health Psychologist



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