8 Of The Most Significant Health Problems Affecting Our World Today
Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on May 10, 2021.
The World-Wide Rise Of Obesity And Extreme Obesity
Increasing obesity rates are not just limited to traditionally wealthy nations like the United States or the United Kingdom. Obesity rates have soared in certain sectors of the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in oil-rich nations, even though significant proportions of those populations still live below the poverty line.
In the United States, more than 31% of adults are overweight (their BMI [Body Mass Index] is greater than 25 but less than 30) and 42% are obese (their BMI is greater than or equal to 30). This means that more than 73% of all adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese (181 million people).
Experts put the explosion in obesity rates in the last decade down to an increase in caloric intake, rapid urbanization, and the popularity of technology that promotes sedentary lifestyles. Lockdowns as a result of COVID-19 haven't helped either. The impact these factors have is felt particularly hard in populations where exercise is not really practised as part of their culture.
High Blood Pressure: The World's Most Significant Killer
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the number one risk factor for death worldwide, associated with over 7.6 million deaths annually, or 13.5% of all deaths.
Hypertension is actually more of a problem in the developing world, affecting an estimated 640 million people, compared to 330 million people in the developed world. Rates of high blood pressure have jumped dramatically in the past fifteen years. By 2025, experts estimate 1.56 billion adults will be living with high blood pressure.
High blood pressure impacts on numerous other body systems and people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, kidney failure, and certain eye conditions.
Tobacco Use And Smoking: The Leading Cause of Preventable Death
Bottom-line: If you don't want to die prematurely; don't smoke.
Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. It increases your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and stroke. If you smoke you are more likely to catch tuberculosis, develop certain immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and have erectile dysfunction.
Worldwide, more than 7 million deaths are attributable to tobacco use. Countries such as Brazil, Bhutan, and New Zealand are making commendable progress in their effort to make their nation smoke-free. In the United States, 28 states have comprehensive smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars. Hundreds of other cities and counties have also taken a stance against smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. Speak up for your right to breathe clean, smoke-free air.
Diabetes: The Silent Stealer Of Life
Consistently high blood glucose levels are a sign of diabetes. Worldwide, over 422 million people live with diabetes, and it accounts for around 1.6 million deaths every year. More than 80% of deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
Uncontrolled diabetes slowly damages nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms may go unnoticed for many years, but eventually this damage may become life-threatening. Heart disease, neuropathy (nerve damage), kidney damage, eye damage, foot problems and hearing impairment are all more common in people with diabetes.
The Rise Of The Couch Potato
Humans are born to be active. In ancient times, multi-day hunting and gathering journeys were necessary for survival. Dancing and cultural games were a key part of celebrations and excursions to neighboring villages to visit family and friends would often take several hours.
Inactivity increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and diabetes. Being active helps to control weight and strengthens bones. Exercise also releases natural antioxidants, boosting your immune system and allowing you to live longer. You are also less likely to become depressed, and more likely to sleep better.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report that approximately 80% of all Americans do not meet the National Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity and only 50% meet the guidelines for aerobic activity alone. Approximately 25% are not active at all.
For good health, try and be active every day. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week and do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days a week that work all your major muscle groups - such as your abdomen, arms, back, chest, legs and shoulders.
The Explosion Of New Psychoactive Substances
Humans have been using psychoactive substances for many years. Priests drank concoctions made from Amanita muscaria mushrooms during religious ceremonies, and opium was used by healers for medicinal purposes. Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol still rank as the most extensively consumed psychoactive substances in the world.
What is troubling in the "New World" is the speed at which new psychoactive substances are being made. These drugs are designed to evade drug laws or deliver a more potent "high" and are untested and readily available. Short-term harms include paranoia, psychosis, agitation, and seizures. Over 1000 Novel Psychoactive Substances have been reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Early Warning Advisory in the past 10 years. 36% have been stimulants, 29% synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists and 15% classic hallucinogens.
Worryingly, many psychoactive substances have been linked with terrorist activities, because not only do they enhance a person's athletic abilities, they also take away their ability to reason or think rationally. A dangerous combination of effects!
Breathing Can Be Dangerous For Your Health
Unhealthy air is estimated to be responsible for over 200,000 deaths annually in the United States. Road transportation emissions are the most significant contributor, followed closely by power generation.
Bad air also sends millions of people to hospital each year, triggering asthma episodes and worsening other respiratory diseases. In addition, pollution contributes to heart disease, causes cancer, detrimentally affects the way children's lungs develop and speeds up global warming.
In April 2021, the American Lung Association issued their twenty-second State of the Air report covering the years 2017-2019. More than 40% of Americans live with unhealthy air and the report showed that people of color are 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with unhealthy air.
Los Angeles-Long Beach is the city with the worst ozone pollution, and Bakersfield has the worst year-round particle pollution. Fairbanks takes the new top spot as the city with the worst short-term particle pollution. Some of the cleanest cities include Urban Honolulu, HI; Altoona-Huntingdon, PA; and Albany-Schenectady, NY.
You can help support cleaner, healthier air and oppose measures to block or delay the cleanup of air pollution by sending a message to Congress and to the White House to protect the Clean Air Act.
COVID-19: Lockdowns, Deaths by the Thousands, and Global Economic Chaos
2020 will be remembered as the year COVID hit the world.
Despite having a trial run with other viruses that originated from animals, such as SARS and MERS, the world was woefully unprepared for the level of economic and social destruction that the virus caused.
We were supposed to have been prepared. Another viral outbreak was always on the cards, it was just a matter of time. Billions of dollars had been spent worldwide planning for the inevitable next pandemic. Health authorities stockpiled antivirals and personal protective equipment. Schools and hospitals were issued guidelines on how to prepare. Millions of brochures were printed for the public giving advice on how to prepare your household.
But where did we go wrong?
Firstly, we lacked the prompt action and immediate global collaboration that was necessary to halt this virus in its tracks. The virus had time to take hold in cities with high population densities, where close personal contact and poor hygiene practices were common. The delay in notification of the virus and its pandemic status meant borders remained open for far longer than they should have.
A lack of diagnostic testing plus the fact that many cases were mild or lacked symptoms allowed the virus to spread quickly and take hold of those of us who were most vulnerable.
But we will learn a lot from COVID. Hopefully enough to stop this happening again when the next novel virus comes along.
Finished: 8 Of The Most Significant Health Problems Affecting Our World Today
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- Overweight and Obesity Statistics. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/Pages/overweight-obesity-statistics.aspx
- Obesity and overweight. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
- Diabetes. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes
- Lewis, SF et al. Regular Physical Activity: Forgotten Benefits. The American Journal of Medicine 2016; 129(2):137-8
- Fast Facts. Smoking & Tobacco Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 21, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/index.htm#:~:text=Smoking%20is%20the%20leading%20cause,7%20million%20deaths%20per%20year.&text=If%20the%20pattern%20of%20smoking,to%20tobacco%20use%20by%202030.
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- What are NPS? UNODC Early Warning Advisory on New Psychoactive Substances 2021. https://www.unodc.org/LSS/Page/NPS
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018 https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
- State of the Air 2021. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/media/press-releases/sota-2021
- Mills KT, Bundy JD, Kelly TN, et al. Global Disparities of Hypertension Prevalence and Control: A Systematic Analysis of Population-Based Studies From 90 Countries. Circulation. 2016;134(6):441-450. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018912