Friday, 22 June 2012

The shocking rise of non-communicable diseases

This nice little graph from The Atlantic tells a big story. Note how the annual mortality rate has nearly halved in the last 110 years and how the infectious diseases have been replaced by 'non-communicable diseases', especially heart disease and cancer, but also diabetes and respiratory disease.




Earlier this month, I wrote about the coalition of NGOs who have persuaded the World Health Organisation to pledge to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by 25% by 2025.

On Saturday at the sixty-fifth World Health Assembly - a meeting of the 194 member countries of the World Health Organisation – ‘delegates approved the development of a global monitoring framework for the prevention and control of NCDs, including indicators and a set of global targets. Member States agreed to adopt a global target of a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases by 2025.’

As you can see from the graph above, such a promise is little different to pledging to reduce total mortality by a quarter within thirteen years. To state the obvious, that is not going to happen.

What do these people think we should die of? If you exclude the infectious diseases and the 'non-communicable diseases', there isn't a whole lot left. You'll note that 'dying in a perfect state of health' is not an option. Presumably they want us to either die in an accident or commit suicide.

Or maybe they're planning to reintroduce tuberculosis and pneumonia. As the graph shows, that's the only proven way to keep non-communicables diseases under control.

I will leave the last word to the estimable Dan Gardner...






9 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

The total of causes of death always adds up to 100%.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Snowdon

The perfect parasite does not kill its host.

WHO and others are evolving to perfection.

DP

Anonymous said...

What exactly, do they define as a premature death? Does this relate to average life expectancy and if yes is this region dependent? Whilst human life expectancy has certainly increased in many parts of the world the possible human life span has probably not changed at all. So a human being can live to be, say 120 years old at a maximum under optimal conditions. Under such circumstances would dying at 85 be a premature death?

Snowdon said...

My understanding is that any preventable death is a premature death. eg. a smoker who dies of lung cancer at the age of 92 died a premature death because if he hadn't smoked he is presumed to have lived at least a little longer.

As far as I know, premature deaths are not defined as deaths that occurred before a certain cut-off point (eg. life expectancy), but I am happy to be corrected if anyone knows better.

proglodyte said...

Good point Chris.

In reality (or perhaps surreality), I suppose this means that ALL deaths are premature. As you stated above, no death is caused by nothing at all, not even time.

proglodyte said...

In other words - all deaths are premature, but some deaths are more premature than others...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reply Mr Snowdon. As no one can know when a human being "should" die in essence the term premature death is meaningless.

Jonathan Bagley said...

This might be of help. American articles also mention age 75. Seems arbitrary. Haven't spent much time looking into it. In most of the world, increasing wealth should ensure a rapid reduction in deaths before 75, whatever else is done. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/scotPerforms/TechNotes/mortality

Carl V Phillips said...

Hi, Chris. Catching up on 16 (!) of your posts that I had not read during my blog holiday (too much work!). Great work as usual.

The definition of "premature death" is idiosyncratic -- there is no accepted definition and so any use of the term should be accompanied by a definition. Most typical is what you suggested already: any death before some particular age (75, 80, whatever).

Epidemiology official defines a death to be *caused* by a particular exposure if it occurred any sooner than it would have, absent that exposure. But the term "premature" is not a technical epidemiologic term.

Also, I wonder if that citation by Dan is from me. Might be. I did not see that at the time (have taken a month off of reading Twitter too).