University of Sourthern California


3 Global Public Health Threats

Global health care cost the planet $7.1 trillion in 2016, according to Plunkett Research. Some of the biggest issues facing the global public health can also be some of the most costly.

These threats to public health are some of the most costly and impactful in the modern age:

Climate Change

Climate change can no longer be classified as soley an environmental, scientific, or technological issue, according to James Orbinski, a founding member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Dignitas International. In August 2016, Andre Picard of The Globe and Mail reported that Dr. Orbinski told the general council of the Canadian Medical Association that climate change is the "greatest global health threat of the 21st century." Physicians for Social Responsibility echoed his view with similar comments on its website.

According to Dr. Orbinski, climate change has increased the incidence of infectious disease throughout the world. Physicians for Social Responsibility notes insect-borne diseases are spreading to areas previously unaffected due to climate change. It adds that climate change also creates potentially deadly heat waves and decreases air quality.

Children, people living in poverty, and the aging population are among the most vulnerable to the health effects of climate change, according to Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist and deputy director of the NRDC's Science Center. Physicians for Social Responsibility added that people with weakened or impaired immune systems are also susceptible to climate change's effects. Perhaps worst of all, Dr. Orbinski believes"climate change is a threat that magnifies other threats."

Physicians for Social Responsibility is one key group acting against the threat of climate change to public health. It helps educate health professionals around the planet about the health implications of climate change. This group has also been a vocal supporter of measures to reverse climate change, such as the Clean Power Plan and actions to phase out coal-fired power.


Obesity is another significant global health threat, with worldwide obesity rates more than doubling since 1980, according to the World Health Organization. It noted that most of the world's population live in nations where carrying excess weight kills more people than malnutrition does. Obesity affects developed and underdeveloped areas, with the World Health Organization commenting that the number of overweight and obese children in Africa has nearly doubled since 1990. Obesity is now the biggest preventable health threat, according to the Australian Medical Association.

The World Health Organization notes that obesity can cause numerous health complaints, including cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, cancers, and diabetes.

The problem may go beyond obesity, too. In January 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières posed a new classification of "overfat," a descriptor denoting people with enough excess body fat to impair their health. As well as overweight and obese people, people of normal weight with a high risk of chronic and metabolic diseases are classed as overfat. According to its research published in Science Daily, 5.5 billion people, more than three-quarters of the world's population, are "overfat."

The Australian Medical Association is one organization taking steps to curb the threat of obesity and excess weight within its nation. It has lobbied the Australian Government for a sugar tax and restrictions on junk food ads to help Australians make healthier choices. It has also encouraged the government to build more walking and cycling paths and increase physical education classes in school. Childhood obesity and early intervention programs for pregnant mothers are also among the Australian Medical Association's recommendations. If these measures are implemented and proven to get results, we can expect other nations to follow Australia's lead.

Australia's proposed sugar tax is similar to the soda tax implemented in Mexico in 2015. One year after its introduction, Bloomberg editors reported soda purchases had dropped by 12 percent in the South American nation, which has the second-highest obesity rate in the world.

Antibiotic and Antimicrobial Resistance

Health professionals have used antibiotics and antimicrobial agents to treat patients with infectious diseases for the last 70 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These drugs have helped reduce the spread of these diseases and mortality rates across the globe. However, use of these medications has become so widespread that the infectious organisms they were designed to fight have adapted and become resistant to them. This has caused antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance to become a global health threat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people are infected by bacteria resistant to antibiotics and antimicrobial agents every year. Sadly, at least 23,000 million of those people die from their illnesses annually.

The World Health Organization looked to reduce the impact of antibiotic resistance with its first annual "Save Lives: Clean Your Hands" campaign on May 5, 2017. This educational initiative reminded people of the power of washing hands to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Scientists are also learning more about the way bacterial enzymes, called kinases, confer resistance to popular macrolide antibiotics, according to Homeland Security News Wire. Through this research, Dr. Albert Berghuis says, "We now know exactly how superbugs confer resistance to macrolides using these kinases. This allows us to make small changes to these antibiotics such that the kinases can no longer interact with these drugs, which will make the next-generation antibiotics less susceptible to resistance by superbugs."

Dr. Berghuis believes his team can develop the new, more effective macrolide antibiotics in another two to three years. They'll need to be tested before hitting the market, but their development could be significant in the fight against antibiotic resistance. However, Dr. Berghuis was quick to emphasize that this is just one measure towards fighting the global public health threat.

"Antibiotic resistance is a multi-faceted problem, and our research is one aspect that should be placed in the context of other components, such as curtailing the over-use of antibiotics," he explained. "Only when a comprehensive multi-pronged strategy is used can we hope to successfully address this global health threat."

If you're passionate about the minimization and elimination of global health threats, consider pursuing an online master's of public health degree from the Keck School of Medicine of USC. This advanced degree offers the opportunity to concentrate your studies on important public health topics including biostatistics and epidemiology, health education and promotion, global health leadership, and health services and policy.