Alcohol & Drugs Cancer and Tobacco Control

Sex, tobacco, alcohol threat to world health

Underweight mothers and children, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol are the leading contributors to the global burden of disease, according to the World Health Report.

Underweight mothers and children, unsafe sex, high blood pressure, tobacco and alcohol are the leading contributors to the global burden of disease, according to the World Health Report.

Releasing its report in London this week, the World Health Organisation said that worldwide health could be substantially improved if individuals and governments addressed the 25 main risk factors responsible for the global health burden.

Authors of a study, published on the The Lancet website and which forms the basis of the World Health Report, said a clear understanding of the major risk factors to health was crucial for public-health planning and the prevention of disease and disability.

In the poorest regions of the world, childhood and maternal underweight, unsafe sex, unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene, indoor smoke from solid fuels, and various micronutrient deficiencies (Iron, zinc and vitamin A deficiency), were major contributors to loss of healthy life.

In both developing and developed regions, alcohol, tobacco, high blood pressure and high cholesterol were major causes of disease burden.

Dr Mickey Chopra, senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape’s School of Public Health, said that in South Africa it seemed as though the poor were suffering nearly all the risk factors outlined in the report – not just those of poor water and sanitation access and nutrition, but also of high blood pressure, violence and smoking.

“The high levels of ill health are seriously retarding the growth of the economy and leading to further poverty,” Chopra warned.

In a paper, “Health and Social Transition: A Case Study from South Africa”, Chopra and his colleague Professor David Sanders said that the disease and death profile in South Africa predominantly reflected the protracted-polarised model with infectious diseases affecting the poor, chronic diseases affecting both rich and poor and related to an urbanised lifestyle, and a large burden of morbidity and mortality from trauma and violence.

The protracted-polarised model is characterized by the coexistence of infectious and chronic diseases in the same population and persisting over a long period.

Based on the 1996 South African death registration, infectious diseases together with maternal and malnutrition related conditions accounted for almost one out of every three deaths.

Sanders and Chopra estimated that premature adult mortality had started increasing and would reach levels close to 80% within the next 10 years, making it one of the worst in the world.

About the author

Anso Thom