New study says humans live longer, but diabetes, smoking hamper life quality | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 07.10.2016
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New study says humans live longer, but diabetes, smoking hamper life quality

A new report on the status of health worldwide says people are living longer lives. But pollution, smoking, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure are emerging as the new roadblocks to a good life.

Scientists carrying out the "Global burden of diseases" study said that human beings across the planet were living for much longer compared to a few decades ago. The average life expectancyfrom birth increased from 61.7 years in 1980 to 71.8 years in 2015. 

Scientists also showed that globally, sanitation, household air pollution, the problem of underweight and stunted children, and exposure to smoking had been reduced by 25 percent in 2015, compared to figures in 1990.

The aim of the report, published in the science journal, The Lancet, was to enable "understanding of the changing health and challenges facing people across the world in the 21st century" and to present recommendations to policy makers. For this purpose, they analyzed 249 possible causes of death, 315 diseases and 79 risk factors in 195 countries between 1990 and 2015. Scientists used the socio-demographic index - a combination of education, fertility rates and per capita income to compare countries' performance.

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Lifestyle diseases have overtaken bacteria and viruses as the main killers

Low life expectancy in crisis zones

According to the study, total deaths increased to over 58 million in 2015, up by four percent from 2013. Non-communicable diseases were responsible for 71.3 percent of the total, followed by communicable diseases at 20 percent. Among the non-communicable diseases, heart problems and cancer were responsible for 45 and 22 percent of deaths respectively.

Sub-Saharan countries showed  that HIV/AIDS was still a main reason for dipping life expectancy. In Europe, alcohol consumption was the main reason for people dying early, the study said.

Scientists also found that people living in conflict areas, like Syria, were much more likely to have a shorter lifespan due to the ongoing wars in their regions. Between 2005 and 2015, the average life of a Syrian man dropped by 11.3 years to 62.6 years, the study said.

In the last edition of the research in 2013, the examiners said that violent conflict in Egypt, Yemen,Syria and Tunisia had had an adverse affect on people, with life expectancy decreasing by 0.25 years every year. Infant mortality in Syria increased by 9.3 percent from 2010 to 2013, reflecting how the crisis affected mothers' abilities to look after their newborns.

Increase in lifestyle diseases, drug use

According to the study, over a billion people last year experienced acute incidences of respiratory infections and diarrhoea. More than 10 percent of the world's population suffered from chronic disease. These included tooth decay, tension-type headaches, iron-deficiency anemia, age-related and other hearing loss, migraines, genital herpes and ascariasis (roundworm). At least 2.36 billion people were affected by iron-deficiency anemia in 2015, with the second and third-largest group being hearing and vision loss respectively. Lower back pain was a leading cause of disability worldwide in 2015.

Countries with a low socio-development index- which calibrates fertility rate and education - showed a high prevalence of nutritional deficiencies, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. These included countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

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The study also found that environmental, behavioral and occupational factors made a person more susceptible to diseases. Scientists identified ten of the largest contributors to "disability adjusted life years" (DALY), or the number of years a person lost because of ill-health, disability or early death. These included high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use, diabetes, obesity, malnutrition among children, fine particle pollution, high cholesterol, diets high in sodium and household air pollution.

Worldwide, 6.4 million people died of smoking-related causes in 2015.

The researchers expressed concerns about the increase in these ailments despite a reduction in exposure to factors such as smoking and household pollution. "Non-fatal outcomes of disease and injury increasingly detract from the ability of the world's population to live in full health," they wrote, adding that the trend was a result of a change in many countries from causes affecting children to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cancer, which were more common among adults.

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