A Third of the World Has More Than 5 Health Problems

June 17, 2015
Ryan Marotta, Assistant Editor

Although the world's population is generally living longer today than a decade ago, the vast majority still has a number of health issues.

Although the world’s population is generally living longer today than a decade ago, the vast majority still has a number of health issues.

A new study published in The Lancet analyzed 35,620 sources of information on disease and injury from 188 countries between 1990 and 2013, seeking to determine the prevalence and effects of 301 acute and chronic ailments, as well as 2337 health consequences resulting from them.

This Global Burden of Disease Study found just 1 in 20 individuals worldwide had no health problems in 2013, while 2.3 billion had more than 5 ailments. Additionally, the proportion of lost years of healthy life rose from 21% in 1990 to 31% in 2013.

In an exclusive interview with Pharmacy Times, lead study author Theo Vos, PhD, MD, explained pharmacological treatment is an essential tool in combating health issues around the world, giving pharmacists an important role to play in improving global health. However, he noted more work needs to be done to improve access to drug therapies in many areas of the globe.

“I think that many of these health problems that are becoming more prevalent are chronic conditions that require ongoing treatments,” he told Pharmacy Times. “That said, access to treatment is not great for many people around the world, and there is a lot of unmet need for treatment in developing areas.”

On the bright side, death rates are declining much more quickly than disability rates. For example, diabetes rates increased around 43% between 1990 and 2013, but diabetes-related mortality rates only increased by 9% in that time period.

“The fact that mortality is declining faster than nonfatal disease and injury prevalence is further evidence of the importance of paying attention to the rising health loss from these leading causes of disability, and not simply focusing on reducing mortality” Dr. Vos said.

Other key study findings include:

· Low back pain and major depression ranked among the top 10 greatest contributors to disability in every country, causing more health loss than diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma combined.

· Musculoskeletal, mental, and substance abuse disorders accounted for almost half of all health loss worldwide in 2013.

· The number of individuals with more than 10 disorders increased by 52% between 1990 and 2013.

· Eight causes of chronic disorders—permanent teeth cavities, tension-type headaches, migraines, iron-deficiency anemia, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency trait, age-related hearing loss, genital herpes, and ascariasis—affected more than 10% of the world’s population in 2013.

“Large, preventable causes of health loss…have not received the attention that they deserve,” Dr. Vos said. “Addressing these issues will require a shift in health priorities around the world—not just to keep people alive into old age, but also to keep them healthy.”

The study authors emphasized that the average number of years lived with disability has increased over the last 23 years due to population growth and aging. They warned that the number of those with suboptimal health will increase significantly over the coming decades as the global population continues to expand and age.