Special Report

The Biggest Public Health Problems of 2018

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1. Opioid overdose

More than 115 people in the United States die every day from opioid overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The problem of substance use disorders related to prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl was declared in October 2017 a national crisis and public health emergency under federal law.

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2. Major depression

“This is a serious problem we don’t have a handle on,” Dr. Gregory Gelburd, a family practice physician in Charlottesville, Virginia, said. The number of people with major depression increased by 33% between 2013 and 2016.

This rate is even higher among millennials (47%) and adolescents (47% for boys and 65% for girls). And this data, which is based on 41 million health records, covers only people with Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance, which means the real numbers are may be higher.

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3. Suicide

Suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state. It is now the 10th leading cause of death in the country and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. “We are not quite sure why suicide is up, but it appears to have something to do with people feeling more isolated,” Gelburd noted. “Rates also continue to climb among veterans from all wars.”

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4. Obesity

Obesity in America is not a new problem, but rates are going up, with adult obesity rates reaching 35% in seven states, 30% in 29 states and 25% in 48 states. “We are not treating it as a disease, which it is,” Gelburd said. “We still blame people for being obese when it is actually such a complicated problem.” For example, certain bacteria in the gut is found in obese people and not in thin individuals, and overweight people don’t have as many receptors in the body for the hunger hormones in the stomach, which signal the brain you are full, he noted. “Depression and isolation are also known to lead to overeating.”

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5. “Polio-like” virus

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), more commonly referred to as “the polio-like virus,” scared the country in 2018, with 134 cases confirmed in at least 33 states up to December, and 165 patients being tested for the virus. Most of the affected are kids under 4 years old.

This is the third wave of AFM to occur in the country since 2014. The rare virus causes partial paralysis, and experts are not sure what exactly causes it. There is no specific treatment for the virus.

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