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Chronic diseases now the biggest healthcare burden

Obesity now a larger problem than malnutrition as people live longer

Global Disease Burden

Advancements in treating infections and tackling malnutrition have seen chronic diseases and disability become the biggest global healthcare burdens.

The 'Global Burden of Disease Study 2010', a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and published in The Lancet, described the “devastating irony” that people were now living longer but becoming sicker in its analysis of healthcare trends from 1990 to 2010.

The rise of unhealthy eating was one of the main drivers of this reshaping of the healthcare landscape, with people more likely to “suffer from eating too much food rather than too little”, according to the study.

This poor diet, along with physical inactivity, has led to rising rates of obesity and related conditions, such as high blood pressure, which is the biggest risk factor for death today.

“We have gone from a world 20 years ago where people weren't getting enough to eat to a world now where too much food and unhealthy food – even in developing countries – is making us sick,” said Dr Majid Ezzati, chair in global environmental health at Imperial College London and one of the study's lead authors.

Other lifestyle-related health issues, such as tobacco smoking and alcohol abuse, have also increased their share of the global disease burden over the past 20 years, becoming the second and third biggest risk factors in health today.

These factors have reshaped the leading causes of death across the world, with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, all rising up the ranks, while infectious diseases, such as diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections and tuberculosis, all moved down.

Ischemic heart disease and stroke remained the two greatest causes of death between 1990 and 2010.

Dr Christopher Murray, director of IHME and one of the founders of the Global Burden of Disease, commented on the need for both the general public and governments to respond to this evolving environment.

“At an individual level, this means we should recalibrate what life will be like for us in our 70s and 80s. It also has profound implications for health systems as they set priorities.”

This was backed by Sir Richard Feachem, director of the Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco, Global Health Sciences and the former under secretary general of the United Nations.

He said: “[The study] will be of immense value to policymakers and public health practitioners in all countries. It will also generate heated debate, which will lead to further advances in data collection and analysis and better estimates in the future."

The study comprises several articles and is available from The Lancet, which has also published several comments from notable healthcare figures, including World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan.

14th December 2012

From: Healthcare

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