Obesity Kills More Than Hunger

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 3:31 PM EDT

Something to think about as we navigate a health care plan. A new report by the World Health Organization documents how one-quarter of the total 60 million annual deaths annually are premature and preventable deaths.

Furthermore, global life expectancy would increase by 5 years if we tackled 5 preventable factors affecting health. These are: underweight children, unprotected sex, alcohol abuse, unsafe water and related sanitation and hygiene issues, plus high blood pressure.

The report, Global health risks, describes 24 factors that shape human health and longevity. They are a mixture of environmental, behavioral, and physiological factors, including preventable societal ills, like air pollution.

Eight factors alone account for over 75 percent of coronary heart disease deaths—the leading cause of death worldwide. These eight factors include booze abuse, smoking, and low fruit and vegetable intake. Obesity creates or contributes to the other causes: high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity.

Worldwide, overweight and obesity now cause more deaths than underweight.

Combining any or all of these factors gets deadly in a hurry, the report notes. Reducing even one risk increases longevity.

A few other sad and preventable highlights:

  • Nine environmental and behavioral risks, together with 7 infectious causes, are responsible for 45 percent of cancer deaths worldwide
  • Unhealthy and unsafe environments cause one in four child deaths worldwide
  • 71% of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoking
  • Easily remedied nutritional deficiencies prevent one in 38 newborns from reaching the age of five in low-income countries
  • 10 leading preventable risks decrease life expectancy by nearly 7 years globally and by more than 10 years for Africa

It's the challenge of our individual and collective future: to eat right (be it more or less), exercise more, quit smoking, drink booze in moderation, wear condoms, clean the waters, clean the air. That should keep us busy for 80 years or more, a decent lifespan.