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7 Of The Most Significant Health Problems Affecting Our World Today

Medically reviewed on Oct 24, 2017 by C. Fookes, BPharm.

The World-Wide Rise Of Obesity And Extreme Obesity

Increasing obesity rates are not just limited to traditionally wealthy nations like the U.S. or U.K. 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.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight (BMI greater than 25 but less than 30) and 600 million are obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30).

Experts put the explosion in obesity rates in the last decade down to an increase in caloric intake, rapid urbanization and the rise of new technology that promotes sedentary lifestyles. The impact is felt particularly hard in populations where exercise is not a defining part of the 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 7.5 million deaths annually, or 12.8% 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 jumped dramatically between 1990 and 2015. 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 6 million deaths are attributable to tobacco use. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 8 million. 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, 36 states have passed 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, approximately 9% of all adults have diabetes, and in 2012 it accounted for 1.5 million deaths. 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 a necessity 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 CDC reports only 49% of adults over 18 years met the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity and only 20.9% do the recommended amount of muscle strengthening activity as well. This means 79% of people are not doing enough.

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. As of December 2015, 643 new psychoactive substances were registered by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Early Warning Advisory; 75 of which were new substances that had emerged for the first time in 2015.

Worryingly, many psychoactive substances have been linked with terrorist activities. Used to 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

Air pollution is responsible for approximately 7 million deaths every year. Bad air also triggers asthma episodes and worsens other respiratory diseases, contributes to heart disease, sends people to hospital, detrimentally affects the way children's lungs develop, causes cancer, and speeds up global warming.

In 2013, Beijing developed a four-color warning system for air pollution; designated by the colors blue (the least serious), yellow, orange, and red (the most serious). Red indicates the Air Quality Index (AQI) has rocketed over 450, meaning levels of pollutant substances such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone are more than 24 times those considered safe. During a red alert, schools are forced to close, outdoor construction is halted, restrictions are placed on vehicle use and outdoor activities are canceled. Although the Beijing city government has only gone to red alert less than a handful of times since the system's development, pollution levels consistently rank orange.

But pollution is not only a problem in China. India, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, and other countries in South Asia regularly significantly exceed safe levels. Even in the U.S., despite improvements in emissions in recent years, the American Lung Association reports that more than half the population breathe air dirty enough to cause health problems.

Finished: 7 Of The Most Significant Health Problems Affecting Our World Today

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  • Obesity and overweight. World Health Organization.
  • Raised blood pressure. Situation and Threats. 2017. Global Health Observatory (GHO) data.
  • Hypertension. 2017 World Heart Federation.
  • Diabetes. World Health Organization.
  • Lewis, SF et al. Regular Physical Activity: Forgotten Benefits. The American Journal of Medicine 2016; 129(2):137-8
  • Crocq M-A. Historical and cultural aspects of man’s relationship with addictive drugs. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2007;9(4):355-361
  • New Psychoactive Substances (Synthetics) Facts. 25 July 2016. Drug Info.
  • A guide to China's smog alert colours. GBTimes.