Top 5 biggest threats to our health in 2022

The most well-known part of Passover is the ten plagues. Lice and frogs probably don’t scare you too much, but these days many of us are dealing with one or more common health concerns.

A logo is pictured at the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE/FILE PHOTO)
A logo is pictured at the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2, 2020.

If you google the word "epidemic", most results will be related to COVID-19, but before this virus entered our lives, the World Health Organization and public health experts warned us about other health issues which have become much more common over the last 50 years.

As the world changes and more cultures become modernized, we have more challenges to deal with. While doctors and scientists are thinking about how to minimize damage at the global level, it’s important that we’re aware of the dangers and know how to manage them. 

Here is the list of the top five health challenges in 2022:

1. Obesity

Throughout most of human history, hunger has been a major cause of death worldwide. Today, of course, hunger still affects over a billion people, but alongside it the abundance of food and the increase of manufactured products marketed as food, along with the worldwide proliferation of chains like McDonald’s, has created the opposite problem. When you can eat whenever and however much you want, it’s easier to suffer the dangerous consequences of obesity.

In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared obesity a global epidemic. In 2020, the organization released data showing that more than 1.9 billion people over the age of 18 are overweight; more than 650 million of them are obese which is harmful and dangerous. Experts estimate that if this trend continues, by 2030 more than half of the world’s population will be overweight.

Obesity Obese Orthodox 370 (credit: Marc Israel Sellem)Obesity Obese Orthodox 370 (credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

In Israel, data from the Ministry of Health shows that one in four citizens is obese or overweight, with about 4000 deaths per year resulting from direct or indirect effects of this serious problem. In 2018, the Israel Medical Association declared that obesity is a disease in every way. Doctors must acknowledge this problem in their patients and treat them accordingly.

2. Isolation/Loneliness

In the last two years, we’ve felt the difficult effects of closures and being isolated at home. Unsurprisingly, official data also show that loneliness can be detrimental to mental and physical health, in a way that can actually be seen in tests for indices of inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugar and even brain function.

Even before the pandemic made most of us much more isolated, the WHO warned that loneliness is an epidemic in itself and should be treated as such. And unfortunately, the damage of isolation is much more noticeable in older people, who ironically are also required to maintain social distance more than anyone else as each wave (Delta, Omicron) erupts.

Also, studies show that even young people and teenagers suffer from loneliness at rates that are much higher than those of previous generations. This alarming data could have a long-term impact on public health in the future. This understanding requires reference at the global level, but can also push each of us to take small and large actions to connect to other people, especially those who live alone.

3. Stress and anxiety

In 2016 the WHO issued a warning against chronic stress, which it described as "the most dangerous epidemic of the 21st century.” Stress, we emphasize, is an essential emotion that has always helped humans and animals respond quickly to dangers and improve their chances of survival. But in the modern world, stress can do more harm than good, as it’s triggered not only in response to immediate dangers, but almost every day when we’re driving, at work, trying to succeed at school/university, dealing with meaningless arguments and encountering one difficult situation after another.

The WHO noted in this context that "in the modern world, stress levels and unhappiness are only rising. This is becoming the 'new normal' for many, leading to declining productivity and an increased risk of a long list of diseases that develop slowly and quietly such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and chronic infections. All of these can develop and worsen as a result of constant stress."

4. Crohn's and other inflammatory bowel diseases

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that is considered most common in Jews of Ashkenazi descent and in general in people in developed areas with high socio-economic status. The disease has a genetic basis but it has been diagnosed in more people in recent decades. Experts estimate that the reasons for this may be related to higher awareness of the disease, low exposure to bacteria in childhood and possibly also the use of certain medications such as birth control pills or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, the disease is more common among smokers.

In Israel, the prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease, is the highest in the world with almost 40,000 Israelis suffering from it. The good news is that now it’s easier to diagnose the problem and treat it properly. Symptoms of these diseases include constipation, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever. And while Crohn's is a chronic, incurable disease, it can certainly be controlled and symptoms can be eased using medication and adjusting to a healthier diet with the help of a nutritionist who’s an expert in digestive diseases.

5. Endometriosis

According to various estimates, endometriosis occurs in 10-15% of women of childbearing age, but even though it’s considered very common it can take an average of 12 years for a woman to receive an accurate diagnosis. The disease can manifest itself in significant menstrual pain, severe menstrual bleeding, pain during intercourse, gastrointestinal disorders, pain and tenderness in the pelvic area, chronic fatigue, depression and even difficulty conceiving.

Today, scientists still don’t have a uniform explanation for what causes endometriosis, but it has aroused the curiosity of many researchers and various research projects have recently been initiated, which may lead to a comprehensive course of treatment in a few years.

The good news is that awareness of this health problem has certainly risen in recent years and in March 2021, the Ministry of Health recognized endometriosis as a chronic disease so medications for it are covered under the health basket. This, among other things, is due to the long-standing efforts of an organization called "Endometriosis Israel" (Facebook), a nonprofit that works to promote awareness, research and provide appropriate rights for women dealing with this common and complicated medical condition.