Greatest Public Health Achievements of the 21st Century

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While the United States has faced extreme challenges to public health in the last several years, the last two decades have also been host to remarkable achievements in the field, collectively resulting in millions of saved lives and an overall increase in life expectancy. 

To determine the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 21st century, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control and various scientific journals quantifying the effects of public health initiatives since 2000. Where estimates were available, achievements were ranked according to the number of lives saved.

Many of the major achievements of the past two decades are returns on investments in public health first made in the mid-20th century. Federal initiatives to improve occupational safety, for example, largely began in 1970 with the creation of the Occupational Safety Health Administration, which continues to protect workers from modern workplace hazards with new federal standards today. (Federal efforts aside, these remain the most dangerous jobs in America.)

Similarly, the 21st century has seen marked reductions in the motor vehicle fatality rate, partially the result of the many Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since its establishment in 1970.

Other public health achievements of the 21st century belong solely to the last two decades. The rise in health care coverage, for example, is largely the product of the Medicaid expansion that went into effect in 2014 as a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, the many advances in research that have pushed the cure rate for hepatitis C from less than 10% in the 1990s to more than 90% today occurred in the last 20 years. (Here’s how much your state spends on your health.)

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