Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise could Overtake Tobacco As Leading Cause of Death In US
A growing number of people in Britain believe that a moderate amount of alcohol (in general) is good for their health, according to a survey by the market analysts Mintel. 26% of those questioned said that one of the reasons they drank was because they believed it offered health benefits – this is up from 19% two years ago. Just 9% of the 1000 people surveyed thought alcohol was bad for them, and 20% of men said drinking helped reduce stress and that the social side of drinking was important to their quality of life. The findings offer a glimpse into the psyche of drinkers and shows that the dissemination of scientists research results since the 1980s demonstrating the ‘J shaped curve’ is increasingly effective. Perhaps if the message can be improved to communicate the importance of patterns of drinking and other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise we can help improve the startling figures published in JAMA in March stating causes of death in the US in 2000.

The report, with good news for alcohol related deaths, which have fallen from an estimated 100,000 deaths in 1990 to 85,000 in 2000 (3.5% of the actual causes of death in the US) against 435,000 (18% deaths) from tobacco and 400,000 (17% deaths) from poor diet and physical inactivity.

The report opens with the statement ‘During the 1990s, substantial lifestyle pattern changes may have led to variations in actual causes of death. Mortality rates from heart disease, stroke and cancer have declined. At the same time behavioural changes have led to an increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes’. The authors Mokdad A.H et al warn that poor diet and physical inactivity may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death in the US. The number of deaths in 2000 was 2.4 million, an increase of more than 250,000 compared with 1990, due largely to population growth and increasing age. Leading causes of death remain as heart disease (710,760 deaths), malignant neoplasms (553,091 deaths) and cerebrovascular diseases (167,661).

Of the deaths caused by smoking 35,000 deaths are attributable to second hand smoking and 1000 infant deaths due to maternal smoking. The figures related to alcohol consumption are made up of 18,539 reported as alcohol induced and 16,653 from alcohol related crashes. Other alcohol related deaths are linked to oropharyngeal, esophageal, liver, laryngeal and breast cancer as well as to stroke, hypertensive heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

Lesser known and startling causes of death include influenza and pneumonia accounting for 65,313 deaths, scepticemia for 31,224 deaths and tuberculosis for 776 deaths.

Finally car accidents resulted in 43,354 deaths, a decline of nearly 4000 since 1990 with a drop from 22,084 alcohol related crashes to 16,653 deaths in 2000. The authors state ‘We included alcohol related deaths to stress that efforts to educate the public and enforce laws against driving while intoxicated have accounted for most of the decline in deaths on the road’. Source JAMA March 10th 2004 Vol. 291 No.10.

The authors conclude that about half of all deaths could be attributed ‘to largely preventable behaviours and exposures.’ ‘Our findings indicate that interventions to prevent and increase cessation of smoking, improve diet, and increase physical activity must become much higher priorities in the public health and health care systems’.

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