Global Health Affected by Unhealthy Habits

Death risk worldwide may be due primarily to avoidable factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many of the deaths that occur around the world today may be preventable.

At least that’s the message from a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. This study found that the majority of deaths worldwide are due to avoidable factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure and poor diet.

"While we have seen a tremendous growth in risk factors that contribute to non-communicable diseases like heart disease, pulmonary diseases, and diabetes, childhood undernutrition remains a huge challenge for some countries," said lead study author Mohammad Hossein Forouzanfar, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of global health at IHME, in a press release.

Dr. Forouzanfar and team looked at death rates in 2013 from 188 countries stemming from 79 risk factors.

High blood pressure topped the list for both adult men and women worldwide, contributing to more than 10 million deaths in 2013. More than half of those deaths occurred among US men.

Smoking, alcohol use, high body mass index (BMI), high cholesterol and high fasting plasma glucose (FPG) rounded out that list.

BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. FPG is a measure of a patient's blood sugar after fasting for at least eight hours. It's often the first test done to check for prediabetes and diabetes.

The greatest risk factor, however, was poor diet. Diets high in sugar and red meat — and low in fruits and vegetables — contributed to 21 percent of all deaths globally.

For children younger than 5, malnutrition was the most common cause of death. Deaths from this cause were especially common in the African countries of Chad, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Niger.

According to Dr. Forouzanfar and team, malnutrition was also a top risk factor for children in the last global health assessment. Since then, things have improved — except among very young children.

Although this study primarily focused on death and disability, the overall message was hopeful. Many of these risk factors are related to lifestyle choices, and treatments are often available.

"There’s great potential to improve health by avoiding certain risks like smoking and poor diet as well as tackling environmental risks like air pollution," said IHME Director Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, in the release. "The challenge for policymakers will be to use what we know to guide prevention efforts and health policies."

This study was published online Sept. 10 in the journal The Lancet.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded this research

Several study authors disclosed funding from pharmaceutical manufacturers, government entities and private foundations.

Review Date: 
September 9, 2015
Last Updated:
September 18, 2015