6 Public Health Issues to Know in 2024 + Jobs Tackling Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Public health is an important aspect of health care focused on preventing illnesses from developing within the population at large. Here are six public health issues you should know about in 2023.

[Featured Image]:  Public Health professional analyzing information on a public health issue.

Public help professionals work to improve the overall health and well-being of the public at large. Whether they’re preventing diseases or addressing pre-existing conditions, public health professionals seek to provide the highest quality of care to the largest number of people. 

But, what are the issues that you should know about, if you want to enter the field? 

In this article, you’ll explore six important public health issues impacting Americans today and find a list of common professions working to remedy them. At the end, you’ll also find suggested online courses to help you explore this important career further. 

6 current public health issues you should know 

There is no shortage of important public health issues that are worth tackling. Here are just six prevalent public health issues in the United States that you should know about, if you’re considering a career in the field. 

Cardiovascular disease 

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease accounted for one in every five deaths in the United States in 2020. In total, the CDC estimates that approximately 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease that year, amounting to approximately one death every 34 seconds [1]. 

The most common causes of heart disease in the United States are coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. 


Despite significant medical and health advances in recent years, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains a persistent public health concern in both the United States and the world. 

HIV is a virus that attacks an individual’s white blood cells, leading to a weakened immune system. If left untreated, HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which can have a more severe impact on an individual’s immune system, their susceptibility to contracting illness, and their life expectancy. According to the CDC, an estimated 1,189,700 people in the United States had HIV at the end of 2019. In 2020, meanwhile, 30,635 people received an HIV diagnosis [2]. 

While today HIV or AIDS are conditions that can be managed with appropriate treatments, their spread continues to be a concern for public health professionals.  


Physical health has a significant impact on the overall health outcomes of both individuals and the general public. The CDC indicates that 41.9 percent of adults in America can be classified as obese (an increase from 30.5 percent) and 9.2 percent can be classified as “severely obese” [3]. 

While what constitutes a healthy weight can vary considerably from one person to another, excess weight can open the door to a wide range of health conditions. Obesity, for example, has been tied to such potentially life-threatening conditions as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain kinds of cancer. 

Key factors in weight gain are nutrition and physical fitness, which can help individuals maintain healthy weights that decrease their likelihood of developing a life-threatening condition. 

Substance abuse: Prescription drugs and alcohol

Substance abuse, particularly through the misuse of prescription drugs and excessive alcohol consumption, is a prevalent public health problem in the United States. 

For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse approximately 16.1 million Americans over the age of 12 reported misusing prescription drugs over a 12-month period in 2020 [4]. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), meanwhile, identified approximately 14.5 million Americans ages 12 and older as having an alcohol use disorder (AUD) [5].


Cancer is an increasingly common disease that causes harmful cells to multiply uncontrollably. Unfortunately, while various treatments exist for many types of cancer, there is currently no known cure. 

In the United States in 2019, the CDC reported that there were 1,752,735 new cancer cases and 599,589 people who died from the disease [6]. Unfortunately, the chances of developing cancer are on the rise. According to researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the odds of someone under 50 developing cancer has increased with each generation [7].

Mental health and suicide

Mental health is a critical aspect of public health. In addition to having a profound impact on the emotional and psychological health of individuals, mental health can also impact physical health. 

Though mental health disorders can be difficult to see from the outside, the reality is that a large percentage of the population deal with mental health problems every day. According to Mental Health America, 20.78 percent of adults in America – more than 50 million people – experienced some form of mental illness between 2019 and 2020 [8]. 

Unfortunately, the majority of these mental illnesses are left untreated and attendant issues, such as suicidal thoughts, are common among suffering individuals. In addition to being the third leading cause of death among Americans aged 15 to 24, approximately 125 Americans die by suicide every day [9]. 

Public health jobs to consider 

Public health is a big field tackling a host of big health care challenges. Thankfully, there’s a large number of skilled public health professionals focused on resolving these problems. Whether you enjoy working with people or researching in a lab, public health has something for you. 

Some common public health careers you might consider pursuing include: 

Read more: 7 Public Health Careers (+ How to Get Started)

Prepare for a public health career with Coursera

Public health professionals are integral to solving the important health problems that plague our communities every day. Work toward a future career in public health by enrolling in a cost-effective online course, specialization, or degree through Coursera today. 

Imperial College London’s Foundations of Public Health Specialization introduces course takers to the principles that underpin public health and how to apply appropriate health interventions in order to improve public health programs. 

Johns Hopkins’ Epidemiology in Public Health Practice Specialization, meanwhile, provides course takers with the core epidemiologic toolset to measure the health of populations, assess interventions, collect and analyze data, and investigate outbreaks and epidemics.

Article sources


CDC. “Heart Disease Facts, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.” Accessed December 19, 2022. 

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