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article imagePeople worldwide living 'longer but sicker'

By Layne Weiss     Dec 13, 2012 in Health
London - Nearly everywhere around the world people are living longer, but are coping with higher levels of sickness, according to the largest study ever conducted on the global burden of disease.
The last study comprehensive study into this matter was conducted in 1990. At that time, child malnourishment topped the list as the biggest risk factor for ill health. Now, that has been replaced by blood pressure, smoking and drinking alcohol, BBC News reports.
"The biggest contributor to the global health burden isn't premature (deaths) , but chronic diseases, injuries, injuries, mental health conditions, and all the bone and joint diseases," said one of the study leaders, Christopher Murray, director of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, The Associated Press reports.
These conditions count for more than half of the health problems in developed countries. As life expectancy is rising just about everywhere in the world, so too are the number of years people will live with ailments such as hearing and vision loss as well as mental issues such as depression.
Some researchers have criticized that the data is based on poor evidence, BBC News reports.
The research study took about 5-years and involved nearly 500 authors. The study found that in 2010, stroke and heart diseased caused one in four deaths, almost 13 million, worldwide.
That year, around 1.5 people also died from HIV/AIDs.
While the study showed that life expectancy is rising nearly everywhere, it also revealed that Sub-Saharan African Africa continues to have a high rate of early death.
Meanwhile, Japan and Singapore lead the longevity trend in healthy aging, NPR reports. On average, their people enjoy nearly 70 years of disease-free living. Following closely behind are Taiwan, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.
The United States ranked at 32 in healthy living expectancy.
The 1990 study had diseases such as tuberculosis and measles high on the list. The new study has people living into old age and dying from diseases more commonly associated with "rich" countries such as cancer and heart disease, The New York Times reports.
The good news here is higher quality sanitation, improved medical services, and better access to food throughout the developing world. The shift is also a reflection of broad public health efforts such as vaccination programs. Infant death also dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2010. It is still important, however, to remember that while tuberculosis isn't as big a problem worldwide, it is still a major issue in African countries.
The researchers also found some pretty shocking and disheartening information. For instance, homicide is the #3 killer of men in Latin America, and 20th worldwide. It is the 21st highest cause of death in men in the United States, and 57th throughout Western Europe, The Associated Press reports.
Suicide ranks 21st as the leading global killer, it is the #9 cause of death in Asian women. The suicide rate for women in Asia has been high for many years.
According to The NY Times, public health experts are praising the fact that overall people are living longer. But this also raises troubling issues. For instance, behavior is a major risk factor in people developing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. It is a lot easier to administrer a vaccine that combats infectious diseases like measles than it is to get people to change their behaviors. Countries with higher homicide and suicide rates are also faced with greater challenges that do not have a quick fix like a vaccine.
"Adult mortality is a much harder task for the public health systems in the world," said Colin Mathers, a senior scientist at the World Health Organization in Geneva. "It's not something that medical services can address as easily."
More about Longer life expectancy, Chronic illness, Vaccinations, Malnutrition, Smoking
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