Top 10 Public Health Achievements of the Century -- The United States, 1900-1999

Coming up with the top 10 public health feats (or the top whatever) of the 20th century is something of an arbitrary exercise. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy has put together a list of the 100 major medical advances of the 20th century. Their top five advances are as follows:

1. Control of infectious disease;
2. Mass immunization campaigns;
3. Vitamins;
4. Cardiovascular risk factors; and
5. Rational drug design.

-- Medical Editor, MedicineNet.com


During the 20th century, the health and life expectancy of persons residing in the United States improved dramatically. Since 1900, the average lifespan of persons in the United States has lengthened by greater than 30 years; 25 years of this gain are attributable to advances in public health. The U.S. government's statistical reporting publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), reviewed health achievements of the 20th century and profiled ten as listed below.

Many notable public health achievements have occurred during the 1900s, and other accomplishments could have been selected for the list. The choices for topics for this list were based on the opportunity for prevention and the impact on death, illness, and disability in the United States and are not ranked by order of importance. The list of achievements was developed to highlight the contributions of public health and to describe the impact of these contributions on the health and well being of persons in the United States.