Avoidable Risk Factors Lead to Growing Number of Deaths, Higher Disease Burden Worldwide

Avoidable risk factors to health are taking a growing toll on global health, according to an analysis of 79 risks in 188 countries. The results were published in The Lancet.

Avoidable risk factors to health are taking a growing toll on global health, according to an analysis of 79 risks in 188 countries. The results were published in The Lancet.

The risk factors examined in the stud contributed to 30.8 million deaths in 2013 and the top risks for both men and women were high blood pressure, smoking, high body mass index, and high fasting plasma glucose. Poor diet had the greatest cumulative impact on health.

“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,” Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which led the study, said in a statement. “The challenge for policymakers will be to use what we know to guide prevention efforts and health policies.”

In 2013, 21% of global deaths were attributed to a combination of 14 dietary risk factors, which include diets low in fruit, whole grains, and vegetables, and diets high in red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages. These risk factors contribute to ailments like ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The leading risk factors contributing to deaths has changed since 1990, the researchers found. High cholesterol and alcohol use have entered the top 10, while childhood undernutrition and unsafe water sources fell off.

However, children struggle with different risks and undernutrition was the top cause of death for children under the age of 5 years. Childhood undernutrition—which includes children who are underweight, whose growth is stunted, and who suffer from wasting—contributed to 1.3 million deaths in 2013, or 21% of total deaths for children under the age of 5 years.

“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 Mohammad Hossein Forouzanfar, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Global Health at IHME and the paper’s lead author.

The study also examined which risk factors contribute to health loss, measured by disability-adjusted life years, tracked regional variations risks associated with health loss, and includes several risk factors, such as wasting, stunting, unsafe sex, and no hand-washing with soap, for the first time.