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.”
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.
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.
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
“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.
- “The Superbug That Doctors Have Been Dreading Just Reached the U.S.“
Lena H. Sun and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post [4-minute read]
- “Preparing for Pandemics: How Systems, Planning and Research Can Protect the world in the Next Outbreak“
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The New York Times [10-minute read]
- “The Lesser Known Challenges in Healthcare Systems of Ebola Affected Countries“
Zeno Masereka, Global Health Corps [5-minute read]
- “Obamacare Succeeded for One Simple Reason: It’s Horrible to be Uninsured“
Sarah Kliff, Vox [3-minute read]
- “Physics Makes Aging Inevitable, Not Biology“
Peter Hoffmann, Nautilus [7-minute read]
- “A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future“
Amy Harmon, The New York Times [31-minute read]
- “Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011″”2020“
World Health Organization
- “The Plan to Avert Our Post-Antibiotic Apocalypse“
Ed Yong, The Atlantic [7-minute read]
- “Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Humans’ Biggest Killer: Age“
Amy Harmon, The New York Times [11-minute read]
- “The Sugar Conspiracy“
Ian Leslie, The Guardian [27-minute read]
- “Meet the Women Trying to Rid Pakistan–and the World–of Polio“
Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times [6-minute read]
- “What If Mental Health First Aid Were as Widespread as CPR? New York City’s Planning to Do It“
Jasleena Grewal, Yes! Magazine [5-minute read]
- “How Your Gut Affects Your Mood“
Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight [4-minute read]
- “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High“
Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times [5-minute read]
- “The U.S. Spends More Money on This Medical Condition Than Any Other“
Amy Ellis Nutt, The Washington Post [2-minute read]
- “Facebook Use Predicts Decline in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults“
Ethan Kross et al., PLOS [38-minute read]
- “The Unhealthy Truth Behind “‘Wellness‘ and “‘Clean Eating‘“
Ruby Tandoh, Vice [16-minute read]
- “Michelle Obama Gets Her Way on Nutrition Labels“
Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico [4-minute read]
- “The Changing American Diet“
Nathan Yau, FlowingData [3-minute read]
- “Longtime Couples Get in Sync, in Sickness and in Health“
Lindsay Peterson, NPR [2-minute read]
- “A Controversial Theory May Explain the Real Reason Humans Have Allergies“
Carl Zimmer, Quartz [17-minute read]
- “How Long Can You Cycle Before the Harm From Pollution Exceeds the Benefits of Exercise?“
Akshat Rathi, Quartz [2-minute read]
Care to read a book about it? Here’s a few–both old and new–to consider:
- Tracy Kidder–Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
- Richard Preston–The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus
- Roger Throw–The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children–and the World
- Steven Johnson–The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
- Gary Taubes–Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It
- Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried–A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction
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 Power of Genes, and the Line Between Biology and Destiny“
Fresh Air, NPR [37-minute listen]
- “More Is Less“
This American Life, #391, WBEZ [60-minute listen]
99% Invisible, Episode 173 [19-minute listen]
- 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.
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.
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.