Science

Massive global health study reveals "disturbing" trends

Massive global health study re...
The annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study reveals some worrying trends in people's health around the world
The annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study reveals some worrying trends in people's health around the world
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The annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study reveals some worrying trends in people's health around the world
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The annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study reveals some worrying trends in people's health around the world
The study found the world's population was increasing annually by over 87 million between 2007 and 2017, however global fertility rates are on the downturn
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The study found the world's population was increasing annually by over 87 million between 2007 and 2017, however global fertility rates are on the downturn

Running for over a decade now, the annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study is a giant peer-reviewed assessment of global health trends. The results this year, published across a series of articles in the prestigious journal The Lancet, present some concerning trends, from a worrying plateau in global mortality rates to a decline in global fertility rates.

Coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, the GBD study offers a fantastically detailed snapshot of the current state of the world's health, involving over 3,500 researchers from 140 countries around the globe.

Population and Fertility

This year, for the first time, the study measured population and fertility data and revealed some pretty fascinating stats for the data nerds out there. Overall, the study found the world's population was increasing annually by over 87 million between 2007 and 2017, however global fertility rates are on the downturn.

Average births per woman have dropped by half since 1950, and over 90 countries are registering rates of less than two births per woman. This generally means that these countries are registering current birth rates at below replacement levels to maintain current populations.

"Although total fertility rates are decreasing," notes Christopher Murray from IHME, "the global population continues to grow as death rates decline and because of population 'momentum' in previous decades."

The majority of countries with decreasing birth rates were found to be in Europe (Georgia, Poland, Romania, Greece, Spain, Portugal), while the highest birth rates were seen in sub-Saharan Africa. Niger represented the highest fertility rate of any country in 2017 with a single woman giving birth to an average of seven children in her lifetime.

"These statistics represent both a 'baby boom' for some nations and a 'baby bust' for others," says Murray. "The lower rates of women's fertility clearly reflect not only access to and availability of reproductive health services, but also many women choosing to delay or forgo giving birth, as well as having more opportunities for education and employment."

Global causes of death

In 2017 there were 55.9 million deaths recorded globally, and over half of those deaths (51.5 percent) could be attributed to four preventable risk factors: high blood pressure, smoking, high blood glucose, and high body mass index.

Going back to 1990, almost all of those top four risk factors were significantly less of a global health issue. In 1990, high body mass index was ranked as just the 16th most significant mortality risk factor, yet in 2017 it jumps to the fourth position. High blood sugar also jumped from 11th in 1990 to third in 2017.

"The world has seen several health success stories,"says Murray, explaining the major global shifts in causes of death. "Investments made in poor countries addressing prenatal care and water and sanitation problems clearly have made a significant difference in people's lives. Conversely, the combination of increasing metabolic risks and population aging will continue driving problematic trends in non-communicable diseases."

Other trends

The GBD also offers some alarmingly precise insights into trends we already knew were occurring, such as the striking figures on opioid use. Global deaths from opioid use increased from around 60,000 in 2007 to well over 100,000 in 2017. That's a global increase of over 75 percent in less than a decade.

Another growing cause of global mortality is deaths related to conflict and terrorism. These are two of the fastest growing causes of death worldwide, increasing by around 118 percent over the past decade.

Women continued to display greater life expectancy than men in the latest GBD. In almost every country surveyed women lived, on average, longer than men. However, the disturbing caveat is that women tend to live more of their later years in poor health.

The Lancet published an editorial accompanying the seven papers, describing the data from the 2017 GBD as "disturbing".

"Not only do the amalgamated global figures show a worrying slowdown in progress but the more granular data unearths exactly how patchy progress has been," the editorial states. "GBD 2017 is a reminder that, without vigilance and constant effort, progress can easily be reversed. GBD 2017 should be an electric shock, galvanizing national governments and international agencies not only to redouble their efforts to avoid the imminent loss of hard-won gains but also to adopt a fresh approach to growing threats."

You can dig through the massive trove of GBD 2017 data here at IHME, while the new studies are published in The Lancet.

Source: IHME

10 comments
paul314
For a few generations, at least, isn't sub-replacement lifetime fertility a good idea? Given the interesting circumstances forecasted for the coming century it certainly seems rational.
guzmanchinky
This is GREAT news. We need far less people on this planet.
notfromthisplanet
I'm not sure why NA used the word "disturbing" - I see this as good news (for a change) as there are already too many people in the world given the available resources. Least we forget, there are other life forms on the planet, many sentient, who also have a right to exist and they deserve a share of the planet's resources as well. This being said, a decrease in the birth rate is very good news and I wouldn't worry about mortality rates that much - its just a delay really. Africa could spoil the whole party though with their high birth rates. Look for more migrations from Africa to the US and EU - you think the caravan is bad wait till you see throngs of Africans trying to migrate but I digress. What is really needed is more research on how we can have vibrant economies with a stable population. There is almost no research in this area. Its a tenant of general economics that growing populations are needed for growing economies - this has to change.
grtblu
Population growth stagnation and decrease is good news. Now if the economists and their wall street buddies could just get their heads around defining valuable businesses as those that are not driven to grow every year even though they are nicely profitable. The mantra still is no growth, no value, the market will punish you. This is pure BS. Give me a stable and profitable company to invest in, one that isn't driven by a vampire like need to suck more and more blood in order to maintain its stock value. We need a complete re-thinking about corporate value and market pricing of securities.
Catweazle
"over half of those deaths (51.5 percent) could be attributed to four preventable risk factors" Ah, "preventable risk factors"... I see. So what do "healthy" people usually die of?
warren52nz
I find it hard to think of anything that wouldn't be better if we had fewer people. I've chosen not to have children and if others did the same we wouldn't be: - destroying the ecosystem - causing mass extinctions of animals - starving in many places - stuck in traffic jams etc, etc. Maybe the decrease in fertility rates is Nature's response to humans raping the ecosystem. Nah but it's an interesting concept.
Don Soards
Living longer while moving toward population equilibrium is good, not "disturbing."
TonyB
Disturbing? Not to me, any decline in the human population growth rate is positive for this planet and its existing population of people, animals and plants.
Emil Lindroth
Earth´s resources are being depleted fast, but it´s not third world citizens doing that - it´s us! Or, rather the economic elite... Yes, it sounds a bit like bad conspiracy theory, but we´ve been fed lies for so long most regurgitate them without questioning if it´s true or not. It´s a established fact that the wealthiest third of the population consume half of the resources, the other two thirds have to divide the remaining 50% between them. It´s also true that the other two thirds don´t fly or drive SUV´s - but those that do so are not the greatest environmental bad guys either. It´s the people in charge of economies, that call the shots on an industrial mega-scale and that legislate who create deadly pollution and the circumstances that effects which the rest of us living on the planet. Their wealth is based solely on the price of oil and they need us to agree to wage unnecessary wars on each other, consume things we don´t need and act like mindless puppets. Earth is over-populated huh? So, what is a perfect number for how many humans there can be? What is a sustainable amount? It all comes down to how the resources are divided, doesn´t it? How the financial equilibrium is kept unbalanced? We´re moving towards a future where hundreds of millions will perish in deadly heatwaves and the consequences of the unjust set-up will render famine, drought and severe climatic disasters (wildfires, tsunamis etc). On top of that we have the male fertility bomb with decreasing sperm production in human males globally, which nobody talks about. There´s Fukoshima radiation and "regular" pollution causing death in the decades to come, beside the stuff in the GBD results. We are looking at "death by luxury consumption" with sugar induced deceases and tobacco, but it´s really human stupidity that drives our species destructiveness. We an easily change it, but we´re told we can´t by the people driving us towards extinction. How, you may ask? By making comments like this. So, what will the future be like? - Mad Max, but with less pale skinned people and more older dark skinned females. Currency will be replaced by bartering and making alliances and it will be the strong groups with good leadership that prevails. We´ll have to help each other with growing food and education. Building a better society globally without harming our habitats. And when they talk about us, about our time - the early 2000´s - they´ll shake their heads and ask how the masses could agree to this treatment of the planet and our fellow humans much in the way like we talk about slave owners in the 1700´s. How stupid people were, why did they let it happen? And that´s what GBD results really tells us I believe.
warren52nz
That's not disturbing, it's promising. Almost everything would be better if we had fewer people. Overpopulation is our biggest threat. For every exception there are probably 10 that support that concept.