In the last 20 years, the average age of death rose from 59 to 70 years – and so did the length of time people live with chronic health problems.
According to the Daily Mail, the study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at Seattle’s Washington University, was compiled from more than 300 institutions from 50 countries around the world. Researchers took data from surveys, censuses and hospital records and used computer models to estimate how long people live and how healthy they are.
The results revealed several startling new facts about the life and death of the world’s population.
For instance, malnutrition is now causing less deaths worldwide than obesity. In the year 2010, over three million deaths globally were attributable to excess body weight, which is more than three times as many as malnutrition.
“We’ve gone from a world 20 years ago where people weren’t getting enough to eat to a world now where too much food and unhealthy food – even in developing countries – is making us sick,” said Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, one of the lead researchers, to the Mail.
High blood pressure killed more than nine million people worldwide in 2010, making it the greatest overall health risk. Smoking and alcohol came second and third.
Of the 52.8 million deaths that occurred globally in 2010, chronic diseases claimed the most lives. For example, 12.9 million deaths were due to stroke and heart diseases – two conditions that are exacerbated by eating and drinking too much, lack of exercise, and smoking. Another eight million were from cancer.
HIV/AIDS killed 1.5 million people in 2010, and tuberculosis, another infectious disease, killed 1.2 million.
Even though child mortality rates decreased, there was a disturbing 44 percent increase in the number of deaths among people aged 15 to 49 between 1970 and 2010. Researchers say this is partly because of increases in violence, such as homicide and traffic accidents, as well as the AIDS epidemic.
The report also found that as the average life expectancy rises, so does the number of years people are living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and depression.
“Today’s major health problems now are diseases and conditions that don’t kill, but make us ill,” the Mail reports. “We now live longer with more health problems that cause pain, impair mobility, and prevent us seeing, hearing and thinking clearly.”
“Very few people are walking around with perfect health, and as people age, they accumulate health conditions,” said Christopher Murray, the IHME’s director. “This means we should recalibrate what life will be like for us in our 70s and 80s. It also has profound implications for health systems as they set priorities.”
However, the good news is that there is much we can do to reduce disease risk.
“To bring down the burden of high blood pressure, we need to regulate the salt content of food, provide easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthen primary healthcare services,” Prof. Ezzati said.
“Under-nutrition has come down in the ranking because we’ve made a lot of progress in many parts of the world,” he said. “This should encourage us to continue those efforts and to replicate that success in Africa, where it’s still a major problem.”
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