Previously child and maternal malnutrition, unsafe water, sanitation and lack of hand washing were the leading risks for death globally. A new study has revealed that these factors are no more the deadliest risks and have been replaced with poor dietary habits and high blood pressure.
After looking at 79 risk factors for death in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013, the research 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. IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray said, "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."
A wide range of avoidable risk factors to health, ranging from air pollution to poor diets to unsafe drinking water, account for a growing number of deaths and a significant amount of disease burden. These 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.
The researchers said, "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. 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 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."
Researchers noted that unsafe sex has taken a huge toll on global health, contributing to 82% of HIV/AIDS deaths and 94 percent of HIV/AIDS deaths among 15 to 19-year-olds in 2013. Dr. Murray said, "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. 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."
Professor Alan Lopez from University of Melbourne said, "Many of these risk factors are preventable with lifestyle changes."
The research paper is published in The Lancet.