Poor diet, high blood pressure and smoking are the leading causes of death worldwide, while unsafe water and childhood undernutrition are also among the top risk factors in India, according to a new analysis across 188 countries.
In 1990, child and maternal malnutrition and unsafe water, sanitation, and lack of hand washing were the leading risks for death, but these have now been replaced by dietary risks and high blood pressure, researchers said.
High blood pressure was the number-one individual risk factor associated with global deaths in 2013, contributing to 10.4 million deaths around the world that year, researchers said.
High blood pressure’s impact on mortality grew by 49.1 per cent between 1990 and 2013, according to the study led by the University of Washington and the University of Melbourne.
“In South and Southeast Asia, household air pollution is a leading risk, and India also grapples with high risks of unsafe water and childhood undernutrition,” researchers wrote in The Lancet journal.
The risk factors examined in the study contributed to a total of 30.8 million deaths in 2013, up by one-fifth from 25.1 million deaths in 1990.
The top risks associated with the deaths of both men and women are high blood pressure, smoking, high body mass index, and high fasting plasma glucose.
However, the greatest cumulative impact on health comes from poor diet. A combination of 14 dietary risk factors contributes to the highest number of deaths worldwide through ailments like ischemic heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
In 2013, 21 per cent of total global deaths were attributed to these risks, which include diets low in fruit, whole grains, and vegetables, and diets high in red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages.
“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,” said Christopher Murray, Director of Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Childhood undernutrition and unsafe water sources have dropped off the global top-10 list, while high cholesterol and alcohol use have replaced them.
Smoking is a larger problem for males, ranking as the number-two risk and associated with 4.4 million deaths; for females it’s number six and contributes to 1.4 million deaths.
Alcohol use is a top 10-risk factor for male deaths, but it is not a leading cause for females.
Children also struggle with different risks than adults. For children under the age of 5, child undernutrition was the number-one cause of death.
Childhood undernutrition contributed to 1.3 million deaths in 2013, which is 21.1 per cent of total under-5 deaths.