What Are the Most Serious Threats to Public Health? (2024)

A robust public health system must have the ability to respond to a range of challenges. These can include disease, environmental hazards, and a lack of necessary services.

To address these threats, it's important to give the public a say in their health. This can help establish trust and respect for public health institutions.

Climate change

Climate change is a long-term trend that can be traced back to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. These greenhouse gas emissions trap the sun's heat and cause temperatures to rise.

The impacts of climate change include increasing air and ocean temperature, melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, reduced winter snow cover, and changes in weather patterns that affect seasonal rain.

As a result, people can experience heat stress and illnesses such as heat stroke and respiratory issues from worsened weather conditions. Seasonal changes can also cause disease-carrying insects to spread diseases such as West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and dengue fever to new areas of the world.

The impact of climate change on health is particularly severe among populations that have been historically disadvantaged and under-resourced. This includes children, adults with preexisting medical conditions, outdoor workers, and people of color.

Untreated sewage

Sewage pollution in waterways and the ocean is a major health threat, as it often contains pathogens and toxins that make people sick. These include bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause gastro-intestinal symptoms, rashes and flu-like symptoms.

Humans are especially vulnerable to infections from untreated sewage in freshwater environments like rivers, lakes and streams. In addition, the presence of sewage can lead to eutrophication in these ecosystems.

Historically, sewage-contaminated water has been a significant source of disease outbreaks worldwide, including typhoid fever and cholera. These diseases are still a serious problem in many areas of the world today, particularly in densely populated cities and rural communities.


COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can cause severe illness in certain people. It spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets and small particles that are released when someone coughs, sneezes or talks.

People with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women, babies and people 65 years of age or older, are at higher risk for severe illness. CDC recommends getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots if eligible. It also recommends staying indoors if possible when you have symptoms of the disease, wearing a mask and testing yourself to determine whether COVID-19 is the cause.

Tobacco use

Tobacco use is a major health risk, killing more than 8.7 million people worldwide every year. It’s also a major cause of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

Smoking tobacco can increase your risk of developing cancer, heart disease and lung disease. It also harms your bones, teeth and skin.

Cigarette smoke has toxic chemicals that irritate your lungs and other organs. They can damage blood vessels, causing them to become clogged.

In addition, cigarette smoke can increase your risk of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It can also make your asthma worse.

Tobacco use has many harmful effects on users, but different products pose varying levels of risk. Heated tobacco products (HTPs), for example, expose users to toxic emissions that may cause cancer.


Obesity is a complex disease that is caused by several factors. Eating and physical activity patterns, insufficient sleep, social determinants of health and genetics all play a role.

People who have obesity need to make changes in their diet and lifestyle to treat the condition. These changes can include replacing foods high in fat and sugar with healthier choices.

Keeping up with regular physical activity can also help people lose weight. But many people don’t get enough exercise, especially in Western countries.

In general, obesity increases your risk for many diseases and conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It may even increase your risk of death.

What Are the Most Serious Threats to Public Health? (2024)
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