Mental disorders, poor diets making us sick: Study

Heart disease and tobacco ranked with conflict and violence as world's biggest killers

LONDON/PARIS • Heart disease and tobacco ranked with conflict and violence as among the world's biggest killers last year, while poor diets and mental disorders caused people the greatest ill health, a large international study has found.

The Global Burden of Disease study, published yesterday in The Lancet medical journal, found that while life expectancy is increasing, so too are the years people live in poor health.

And the proportion of life spent being ill is higher in poor countries than in wealthy ones.

Professor Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which led the study, said: "Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates. But we've been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses."

He said a "triad of troubles" - obesity, conflict, and mental illness - is emerging as a "stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles".

The IHME-led study, involving more than 2,500 researchers in about 130 countries, found that poor diet was associated with nearly one in five deaths worldwide last year. Diets low in whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and fish oils and high in salt were the most common risk factors, contributing to cases of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol.

The study also found that deaths from firearms, conflict and terrorism have increased globally, and that non-communicable, or chronic, diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes caused 72 per cent of all deaths worldwide.


  • • Nearly one in five deaths worldwide last year was associated with poor diets.

    • 9.48 million people died of heart disease globally last year.

    • 7.1 million lung cancer fatalities last year were blamed on tobacco.

    • Major depressive disorders ranked in the top 10 causes of ill health worldwide.

    • 150,000 deaths were due to conflict and terrorism last year, a jump of 140 per cent compared with a decade earlier.

    • Source: Global Burden of Disease, The Lancet

Heart disease was the leading cause of premature death in most regions and killed 9.48 million people globally last year. That is an increase of nearly 20 per cent in a decade.

Similarly, mortality due to another so-called "lifestyle" disease, diabetes, went up by more than 30 per cent over the same period to 1.4 million.

Cancers - led by lung cancer - are also on the rise, accounting for nearly nine million deaths last year, 17 per cent more than in 2006. Tobacco was blamed for 7.1 million of those fatalities.

Mental illness was found to have a heavy toll on individuals and societies, with 1.1 billion people living with psychological or psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems last year. Major depressive disorders ranked in the top 10 causes of ill health in all but four countries.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation global health charity and gives data estimates on some 330 diseases, and causes of death and injuries in 195 countries and territories.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Mental disorders, poor diets making us sick: Study'. Subscribe