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‘High blood pressure, smoking, obesity top global causes of death’



HIGH blood pressure

HIGH blood pressure, smoking and high body mass index have been identified as the top three avoidable risk factors for death and disease among adults worldwide by a new global study while under-nutrition remains the leading avoidable risk factor among children under five.

Results of a new study published yesterday in The Lancet showed that the number of deaths attributable to high blood pressure increased by almost 50 per cent between 1990 and 2013.

Study leader, Dr. Mohammad Hossein Forouzanfar of the Institute for Health and Metrics Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues analysed 1990-2013 data from the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factor (GBD) study.

The researchers, who also assessed the effects of these avoidable risk factors by age and sex, said that high blood pressure or hypertension was the greatest mortality risk factor for both men and women, adding that high blood pressure was found to be a greater burden for men than women.

Smoking was found to have the second greatest impact on mortality for both men and women over the 23-year period, with the number of deaths attributable to the habit increasing by more than 25 per cent.

It was also found to be a greater burden for men than women, contributing to 4.4 million deaths for men in 2013 and 1.4 million deaths among women.

The researchers said high Body Mass Index (BMI) was the third greatest mortality risk factor for men and women, identifying a 63.2 per cent increase in deaths due to the condition between 1990 and 2013, saying that contrary to the effects of hypertension and smoking, high BMI appeared to be a greater burden for women than men.

They also said high blood pressure, high BMI and smoking were also the leading risk factors for disability-adjusted life years, or loss of healthy life in 2013 for both men and women.

On assessing the effects of dietary risk factors on mortality, the team found a combination of 14 of these risk factors contributed to 21 per cent of total global deaths between 1990 and 2013 through conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

These risk factors included diets low in fruits and vegetables and diets high in red meat and sugary drinks. While the researchers note that child under-nutrition – defined as children who are underweight, have stunted growth or muscle wasting due to lack of nutrition – fell out of the top 10 global mortality risk factors over the study period, it still remains the leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

According to the results, 1.3 million deaths among under-five children were attributable to under-nutrition in 2013, accounting for 21.1 per cent of all deaths in that age group and the countries where this was most prominent included Chad, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Niger Republic.

Meanwhile, the researchers note that unsafe sex still poses a huge risk for global health with the study revealing that it contributed to 82.3 per cent of global deaths from Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 2013, most of which occurred in South Africa.

Forouzanfar and colleagues say their results provide a “clear indication” of where governments around the globe should focus their risk factor prevention programmes.

A study co-author, Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of IHME, said: “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. The challenge for policy-makers will be to use what we know to guide prevention efforts and health policies.”

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