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Health

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World’s health woes shift

The health of most of the planet’s population is rapidly coming to resemble that of the United States, where death in childhood is rare, too much food is a bigger problem than too little, and life is long and often darkened by disability.

High blood pressure is now the leading “risk factor” for disease around the world. Alcohol use is third. Low-back pain now causes more disability than childbirth complications or anemia.

“We are in transition to a world where disability is the dominant concern as opposed to premature death,” said Christopher J.L. Murray, who headed the Global Burden of Disease Study, published Thursday. “The pace of change is such that we are ill-prepared to deal with what the burden of disease is now in most places.”

Produced over five years by 486 researchers at 302 institutions in 50 countries, the study is the most detailed look at health on the population level ever attempted.

It charts 235 causes of death, including AIDS, alcoholism, bladder cancer and animal bites. It looks at 67 risk factors that can cause illness.

The calculations are made for two points in time –1990 and 2010. As a consequence, the study reveals how the world’s health has changed over two decades and provides a trajectory of where it may be headed.

The study provides both a broad-brush portrait of 7 billion people and a detailed etching of what’s happening in 187 individual nations.

Heart disease and stroke were the leading and second-leading causes of death in 1990 and remained so in 2010. But over that two-decade period, malnutrition dropped from the 11th to the 21st cause of death. Diabetes, car accidents and lung cancer all rose in the rankings.

Africa remains the one place where AIDS, malaria, childhood infections and malnutrition remain critical.

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