A new study found the leading causes of death around the world, shedding light on the most dangerous behaviors and conditions that kill millions of people globally each year. The report, the Global Burden of Disease study, was published online Thursday (Sept 14) in The Lancet.

The report examines the state of the world’s health and estimates average life expectancy in both men and women.

Image Credit: Medscape
Image Credit: Medscape

While the report found an increase in life expectancy, the researchers, based at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, are also cautioning about causes of death that could be prevented by engaging in more healthy lifestyles.

Worldwide average life expectancy rises

The study claims that currently, the average global life expectancy is 72.5 years – with an estimated 75.3 years for women and 69.8 for men. The researchers said the average life expectancy has increased, as in 1990 it was 65.1 years and 58.4 years in 1970.

The country with the highest life expectancy last year was Japan, at 83.9 years, while the lowest was the Central African Republic, at 50.2 years.

Meanwhile, the report found there were 54.7 million deaths in 2016. About 72.3 percent of those deaths were “noncommunicable diseases,” which means they can’t be inherited or passed from person to person, such as stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

The researchers said about 19 percent of deaths last year were from communicable diseases, including maternal diseases –which are passed during pregnancy and childbirth—neonatal diseases –which occur during the newborn period—and nutritional diseases. About 8 percent of deaths in 2016 were from injuries.

The study noted that the total number of deaths from communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases decreased about 24 percent from 2006 to 2016. On a positive note, the report said there has been substantial progress in reducing deaths among children up to 5 years old, who usually die from complications from early birth or respiratory infections.

Last year, the mortality rate among children below five years old decreased to less than 5 million, a first for modern history. For instance, in 1990 about 11 million children under age 5 died, while 16.4 million passed away in 1970. Fatalities from HIV/AIDS also decreased among children and adults by 46 percent since 2006, while malaria deaths also declined by 26 percent since 2006.

Poor diet accounted for one in every five deaths last year

Not everything was good news with the report, though. The researchers found the total number of noncommunicable diseases spiked 16 percent from 2006 to 2016, which means there were over 5.5 million more deaths from those conditions in 2016 compared to 2006.

Tobacco use was associated with over 7.1 million fatalities worldwide last year, with conditions such as respiratory disease and lung cancer. Meanwhile, poor diet was responsible for one in five deaths around the world and accounted for the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking.

One of every ten deaths are cigarette-related
Tobacco use was associated with over 7.1 million fatalities worldwide last year, with conditions such as respiratory disease and lung cancer. Image credit: Shutterstock / ABC 7 News

Other high risks associated with early death were high blood glucose (which can lead to diabetes), high body mass index, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high total cholesterol. The researchers noted all of those conditions are linked to a poor diet.

“This is really large,” Dr. Christopher Murray, Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation’s director and report co-author, told The Guardian. “It is among the really big problems in the world. It is a cluster that is getting worse. That constellation is a really, really big challenge for health and health systems.”

The report also found that 1.1 billion people suffered from mental health and substance use disorders in 2016. In fact, depression was included as one of the top ten causes of poor health in all but four countries in the study.

Conflict and terrorism deaths increased substantially in ten years

The researchers noted that while the rate of mortality from noncommunicable diseases dropped from 2006 to last year, it did not decline as much as the rate from communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases (CMNN). From 2006 to 2016, the rate of death from CMNN dropped 32 percent, but the rate of death from noncommunicable diseases only declined 12 percent, according to the researchers.

“Patterns of global health are clearly changing, with more rapid declines in CMNN conditions than for other diseases and injuries,” wrote the researchers on the report.

The researchers said that while the reduction of deaths from CMNN is positive, the findings suggest noncommunicable diseases, “which cause very substantial mortality in young and middle-aged adults, need to receive much greater policy priority.”

Another unfortunate result from the new study was the rate of deaths from conflict and terrorism. The researchers found fatalities from terrorism and conflict reached 150,500 deaths last year, marking a 143 percent increase since 2006. The team noted those numbers are mostly caused by the conflict in North Africa and the Middle East. They also found rates of death for opioid use increased, especially in high-income countries.

“Our findings indicate people are living longer and, over the past decade, we identified substantial progress in driving down death rates from some of the world’s most pernicious diseases and conditions, such as under-age-5 and malaria,” said Murray, according to Live Science. “Yet, despite this progress, we are facing a ‘triad of trouble’ holding back many nations and communities – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders.”

Source: Live Science