Happy New Year! Now it’s time to get healthy…

By Joy Portella, Minerva Strategies —

Like many people, my New Year’s resolution includes a health kick: better eating and more exercise. This is almost a relief after the gluttony of the holiday season, but here’s another reason to put down those chips, or that cigarette, or that beer: They might kill you.

I’m not being dramatic; I’ve got data to back me up. In mid-December The Lancet published a research paper called “Global, regional, and national age-sex-specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.” Not exactly a catchy title but the data in the paper paint a fascinating picture of what kills people around the world, and how those causes of death have changed over the course of two decades.

The researchers measured not just what kills people, but what causes people to die prematurely. Diseases that kill 50-year-olds or 15-year-olds tend to be different from ailments that kill 80-year-olds. I was also most interested in which of these causes of premature death have become greater threats since 1990. These are the problems that should keep public health experts up at night.

A review of the top 20 causes of premature death in 2013 is revealing, especially when one looks specifically at the diseases and injuries that are becoming bigger problems over time: heart disease (the number one cause of premature death in the world), stroke, cirrhosis, lung cancer, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. All of these diseases occur because we are not healthy — we eat too much of the wrong foods, we drink, we smoke, and we exercise too little.

We have done a great job of combatting communicable diseases and traditional killers of children like diarrhea, TB, and measles, but “lifestyle diseases” are now the world’s most deadly problems.

There are certainly exceptions to this rule. Premature deaths from HIV/AIDS have soared 344 percent since 1990, though the disease has been in decline since its deadly high point in the mid-2000s. Road injuries kill a huge number of young adults, and the rising cost of suicides should make us all concerned about mental health as an integral part of overall health.

The study was conducted by an international consortium of more than 700 researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a Minerva client. We admire IHME’s work to provide governments, health experts, and general publics with the most comprehensive, up-to-data so that public health investments and policies can be as smart as possible.

In this case, the data also helped me make – and hopefully stick to – my New Year’s resolutions.