Public Health Issues
The subject of public health conjures up myriad issues. In this paper, some of the most salient issues are addressed. First, there is a growing crisis in America over the issue of healthy weight. Americans are also increasingly concerned about the problem of environmental change—toxins in air, water, and foods; climate change affecting weather patterns; the threat of secondhand smoke; and buildings that are so toxic, they are called "sick buildings." In addition to these concerns, superbugs and pandemics that can potentially threaten the health of millions have begun to appear. These diseases can also be spread through another contemporary threat—bioterrorism. The concern is how much is known about this threat and what can be done about it. In the end, it may come down to effective health education—educating Americans about what's out there, how to keep healthy, and what to do in the case of health threats.
Keywords Avian Influenza; Bioterrorism; Flora and Fauna; Global Warming; Greenhouse Gases; Obesity; Pathogens; SARS; Trans Fats
Public Health Issues
There are numerous issues that could be included in an overview of public health. This paper presents some of the most pressing issues facing the American public. The existence of so many health issues is due to the complexity of the lives we lead and the changes taking place in our environment. The interconnection between environmental changes and human health problems are making it difficult for governments and policy makers to come up with effective solutions. In order to address these issues, the environmental problems must be effectively dealt with, but at the same time, there must be practical and appropriate measures to protect the public's health.
In addition to environmental problems, Americans are facing an enormous problem with the growing threat of obesity. Not only adults but children are gaining weight in record numbers. The use of sugar and fats in a wide range of products means that people ingest far too much of this combination of ingredients.
The final part of the picture is health education and the ways the public can learn to adopt healthy behaviors and healthy lifestyles.
There is a growing threat from obesity in America. A startling number of both adults and children are not just overweight but dangerously obese. The lifestyle we lead is increasingly sedentary. Fewer kids walk to school; they are driven by their parents, or they take the bus. At school, they sit all day and eat during lunchtime. When they return home, they sit in front of the television or a computer. For adults, it is very much the same. Many people spend an enormous amount of the day sitting at desks with little opportunity for exercise.
According to Oliver & Lee,
Health policy experts have recently sounded the warning about the severe health and economic consequences of America's growing rates of obesity. This concern appears to resonate with much of the American public. In 2006, the Pew Research Center found that 8 percent of surveyed American adults were dieting, 40 percent were exercising to lose weight, and 17 percent were attempting to do both. Of those who reported being overweight, 47 percent were then dieting and 53 percent were exercising. Despite this, respondents also indicated ongoing dissatisfaction with their weight and many reported needing to get more physical activity (Pew Research Center, 2006).
The problem, unfortunately, goes far deeper than overeating and too little exercise. It is also a result of the ways foods are manufactured, with far too much sugar and unhealthy fats, and data from a study by Gearhardt, Grilo, DiLeone, Brownell, and Potenza (2011) suggests that certain “hyperpalatable” foods may even have addictive qualities. Obesity is gaining recognition as a serious problem, although it has been building for a long time. Additional factors include lack of public education as to reading and understanding ingredients and labeling of foods and the fact that healthy foods tend to be more expensive and there are populations of people who do not have access to healthy foods (e.g., the urban poor, the homeless).
Perhaps even more disturbing is the growing trend in obesity in kids. With obesity comes a long list of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, cancer, and the possibility of a decreased life span. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 35.7 percent of American adults and 16.9 percent of children and teens were obese in 2009–2010 (Ogden, Carroll, Kit & Flegal, 2012). The CDC and state governments have implemented a variety of programs and initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and breastfeeding, and to discourage the consumption of sugary drinks and high-calorie foods, especially in schools and workplaces (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2011). Such efforts may be having a positive impact, as the rate of obesity among low-income preschoolers declined in nineteen states of forty-three surveyed states between 2008 and 2011 (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2013). However, much work still needs to be done.
Obesity costs the United States billions of dollars in health care costs. It is connected to myriad health problems, and these problems, in turn, must be dealt with. The question is: what do we do about the problem of obesity in America? The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2013) found that a slight majority (54 percent) of surveyed Americans disfavor government intervention in the fight against childhood obesity, although 69 percent agree that obesity is a major health concern and 61 percent believe that government policies can reduce obesity. Americans are supportive of some sanctions and unsupportive of others. The Pew findings show widespread support for requiring restaurant chains to list calorie counts on menus (67 percent) and banning commercials for unhealthy foods during children’s television programming (55 percent), but trans fat prohibitions in restaurants met 52 percent opposition; taxing snacks and soft drinks, 64 percent; and limiting soft drink sizes in retail establishments, 31 percent. It is entirely possible that stringent measures and tougher policies are going to have to be instituted in order to help the country combat the epidemic of obesity that threatens its adults and children.
It might seem obvious that the environment could pose potential health problems to the public. After all, the subject of pollution and the decreasing ozone layer are nothing new. However, the growing specter of climate change must be added to the mix, as well as a relatively new phenomenon—sick building syndrome. Another concern is toxins in our drinking water. That water we take for granted that pours out of our kitchen faucet might be more dangerous to our health than we realize.
Poor Drinking Water
Research has begun to appear about the concern for pharmaceuticals, chemicals from personal care products, pesticides, and hormones, among other chemicals in our drinking water. While steps have been taken for some time to improve the quality of our drinking water, not all municipal water treatment facilities have the capability to removal these contaminants of emerging concern (CECs), as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) terms them. The EPA reports that “treated drinking water is disinfected to inactivate and/or remove pathogens. Like municipal wastewater treatment plants, although drinking water treatment plants are not designed to remove CECs; however, removals do occur. The extent of removal varies with the specific CEC and type of drinking water treatment” (2010, p. 2). Marhaba notes that "such compounds . . . may accumulate in the environment. Although the concentrations of these compounds in drinking water are low today, their eventual impact on public health should not be ignored" (2008, p. 20).
Public concerns over the safety of drinking water has led to a boom in the business of bottled water. Yet some suggest that even bottled water is not necessarily safe; all bottled water is not equal. Marhaba (2008) warns that bottled water could be even less healthy than tap water: "Be very careful about drinking bottled water. First, purchase only bottled water from deep aquifers not impacted by pharmaceuticals. Not all bottled water comes from deep aquifers, so read the small print carefully" (p. 20).
A host of environmental problems connected to climate change or global warming will not only affect water but many other aspects of our lives as well. There is generally a scientific consensus that the world's climates are changing. Of course, climate has affected human existence for millennia:
Weather and climate have been known to affect human health since the time of Hippocrates. Heat causes hyperthermia, cold causes hypothermia and droughts cause famine. Injuries, displacement, and death result from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and forest fires. An entire category of diseases—the tropical diseases—is named for a particular climate; climate and weather affect the distribution and risk of many vectorborne diseases, such as malaria (Frumkin et al., 2008, p. 435).
The international media is reporting life-altering droughts in places such as Australia, where the weather has been predicted to steadily worsen. There have also been reports of the loss of ice in Antarctica, where the ecosystem is undergoing a radical change. As the earth's climate changes, we will have to...
(The entire section is 4290 words.)