What You Don’t Know About the Most Common Causes of Death

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Despite knowing the risks, many people still smoke.How we die, at least what we die from, is changing. A new study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation examined the 43 most common causes of death around the world from 1990 to 2010, and found some surprising changes.

Throughout the world—but especially in developed nations—high blood pressure remains the No. 1 risk factor for death. In 2010 alone, more than nine million people died as a result of high blood pressure. But, the big change came at No. 2, at which smoking and alcohol use replaced child hunger as a risk factor for death. Interestingly, obesity (as measured by body mass index) was the tenth leading cause of death in 1990, but by 2010, it had risen to No. 6. In fact, more than three million people died as a result of obesity in 2010. In some countries, particularly in Latin America, it was actually the No. 1 risk factor.

The researchers concluded that these rankings could be interpreted as good news, because high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use, and obesity are more easily treatable—and, more dependent on each person’s habits and behaviors—than problems like child hunger.

Too much salt, not enough fruit, and not enough exercise were identified as three key reasons behind high blood pressure, and other risk factors like obesity. Of course, high blood pressure can be treated by limiting salt intake, eating as much fresh produce as possible and regular exercise.

Alcohol abuse is a growing problem throughout the world and in many countries—including most of Eastern Europe—it is the leading risk factor for death. It accounted for nearly five million worldwide deaths in 2010.

Smoking is on the decline in many countries, but is still rising in many, including China. It accounted for 6.3 million deaths in 2010.

There are several ways to quit smoking or to stop consuming an abusive amount of alcohol. None of them are easy, but all of them remove what has become a dangerous risk factor.

Sources for Today’s Articles:
What You Don’t Know About the Most Common Causes of Death
“A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010,” Lancet, published online December 13, 2012.