Vital Signs: A Reading List

A crash source in the future of human health

4 min read

An old illustration for Parker's Tonic. "The Great Health and Strength Restorer." It shows a tired man on the left, and invigorated man on the right holding a bottle.
Image credit: Boston Public Library // CC BY 2.0
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Our Vital Signs section looks at the future of global health, and asks: Are we getting healthier, or not?

Of course, the smartest way to begin any line of inquiry is to review the best material already available on the subject. Below, you’ll find a reading + listening + watch list that focuses on a few major areas of health–and the progress and road blocks currently surrounding them.


“Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”



Start Here

For both a fine overview and the option to wade deep into peer-reviewed medical research about topics ranging from the effects of climate change on public health to bullying, turn to The Lancet‘s “Global Health Series.” One of the world’s oldest and most popular general medical journals, The Lancet publishes multiple health investigations each year–offering over 100 different global health series to date on its website with dozens of research articles and case reports in each.

Of particular note is the recent research into mental health care in China and India, the global burden of violence against women and girls, and substance use in young populations worldwide.

Also, it’s worth reading this year’s letter from Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman titled “What if?” On the 2016 agenda is tobacco control and neglected tropical diseases.


Then Try

After that, dig into some of the main conversations around human health from these more general-interest publications.

  • Will 90 Become the New 60?
    Our lifespans have increased; so have our active years. Can that go on?
    -David Steinsaltz, Nautilus [8-minute read]
  • The Cancer Almanac
    Science has long classified cancers by the organ in which they begin. That taxonomy is changing, but it’s still how we understand the odds.
    -Ryan Bradley, The New York Times Magazine [25-minute read]
  • The Vice Guide to Mental Health
    A series about the state of our minds in 2015.
    -Various authors, Vice
  • Damage
    When I was younger, someone took a knife to my clitoris and cut out a small but significant part of me. I blamed my mother. I despised her. I loved her.” 
    -Mariya Karimjee, The Big Roundtable [40-minute read]

Choose Your Own Adventure

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what’s topping the global health agenda, head down any avenue you wish to read more about disease eradication and prevention, mental health around the globe, or general wellness.



Mental Health

General Wellness



Care to read a book about it? Here’s a few–both old and new–to consider:


Listen or Watch

Finally, if you prefer to learn by listening or viewing, here are a bunch of health-themed podcasts, documentaries, and films you can check out:

  • The Skinny on Obesity
    From UCSF Television and Dr. Robert Lustig, this compilation of the popular YouTube series of the same name debunks the theory that obesity only affects the lazy and slothful, and predicts that the next generation will die younger if we don’t recognize obesity as an epidemic.
  • The Lazarus Effect 
    From (RED) and HBO, this 30-minute documentary follows the treatment of HIV positive people in Africa over 40 days–at a cost of just 40 cents per day.
  • Rx for Survival
    Here’s a short, seven-minute clip of the six-part, Emmy Award-winning documentary series narrated by Brad Pitt that looks at the heroics of global health care workers in some 20 countries. For more about the project, visit the PBS website.
  • And the Band Played On
    Based on the 1987 investigative best-seller by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts, the movie adaptation starring Matthew Modine follows the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic among gay men in U.S. urban areas in the 1980s.
  • Outbreak
    Loosely based on the book The Hot Zone, this classic 1995 film centers around the outbreak of an Ebola-like virus in Zaire and its deadly spread to the United States.
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How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Vital Signs section, on the future of human health. Click the logo to read more.