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30 Years of Research and Progress

As Research!America staff developed questions for our 2019 national public opinion survey, we reflected on the incredible progress in health and research in the 30 years since the organization was founded. We wanted to know: what did the American people think?

Most Important Medical Achievements of the Last 30 Years

What would you say was the single most important medical achievement of the past 30 years? (Choose one)

Source: A Research!America poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in January 2019

The list of options was carefully curated based on other published lists of medical breakthroughs, public health achievements, and retrospective articles looking back at the past 30 years. But, we also gave respondents the opportunity to provide their own answers, which we coded and totaled when possible. 

Nearly a quarter said that the reduction in cancer death rates was the most important. In fact, in January of this year, the American Cancer Society announced that cancer death rates have fallen nearly 27% since 1991. This decline, according to ACS, translates to about 1.5% per year and more than 2.6 million deaths avoided between 1991 and 2016.

One in five said that diagnostic tests that stop the spread of disease topped their list. This includes tests for infectious diseases, cancers, bacteria, and more. 

This was a new question for Research!America, but it also hearkens to an oft-asked question in surveys about health. Since 1993, Research!America has asked “What is the single most important health issue facing people in the U.S. today?” or some similar version. Back in 1992 in a state survey in Maryland, for example, the most selected choice was HIV/AIDS, with 34% saying that was the top issue. In 2019, 16% said that advances in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention were a top medical achievement. This reflects the tremendous progress made and today, HIV is a manageable chronic condition for those who seek care and pursue treatment.

Heart disease was a top concern when we asked the question nationwide in 2003, with 19% of respondents saying that was their top concern. Today, however, 7% said that reduction in cardiovascular disease death rates was their selection for top medical achievement.

“Without research, there is no hope,” said The Honorable Paul G. Rogers, Research!America Chair Emeritus. This 2019 survey data shows that with research, we can get progress, innovation, and hope.


Since Research!America was founded 30 years ago, a key strategy in advocating for medical and health research has been public opinion. As President Abraham Lincoln said, “…public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.” In this blog post series, we’ll highlight the findings of our 2019 national public opinion survey on medical, health, and scientific research, and explore the trends in the data where we can.