Poor dietary habits and high blood pressure have replaced child and maternal malnutrition, unsafe water, sanitation and lack of hand washing as leading risks for death globally, a significant study has revealed.
After looking at 79 risk factors for death in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013, the team from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington and University of Melbourne found that there has been a profound change in risk factors for death.
“There is 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 Dr. Christopher Murray.
A wide range of avoidable risk factors to health – ranging from air pollution to poor diets to unsafe water – account for a growing number of deaths and a significant amount of disease burden.
The new risk factors contributed to almost 31 million deaths worldwide in 2013, up from 25 million deaths in 1990, revealed the 25-year study of Global Burden of Disease data.
“In South and Southeast Asia, household air pollution is a leading risk, and India also grapples with high risks of unsafe water and childhood under-nutrition,” the researchers noted in the paper published in The Lancet.
In much of the Middle East and Latin America, high body mass index is the number-one risk associated with health loss.
“While alcohol is the number-two risk in Russia, smoking is the number-one risk in many high-income countries, including the United Kingdom,” the findings showed.
The most marked differences are found in sub-Saharan Africa, which, unlike other regions, is dominated by a combination of childhood malnutrition, unsafe water and lack of sanitation, unsafe sex, and alcohol use.
Unsafe sex took a huge toll on global health, contributing to 82 percent of HIV/AIDS deaths and 94 percent of HIV/AIDS deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds in 2013.
This has a greater impact on South Africa than any other country as 38 percent of South African deaths were attributed to unsafe sex.
“The challenge for policymakers will be to use what we know to guide prevention efforts and health policies,” Dr Murray noted.
The top risks associated with the deaths of both men and women in Australia are high blood pressure, smoking, high body mass index, and high fasting Plasma Glucose.
“Many of these risk factors are preventable with lifestyle changes,” added Professor Alan Lopez from University of Melbourne.