It’s no secret that some of our unhealthy habits are driving us early deaths, so the United Nations has calculated exactly how many lives can be saved if we start following the advice of public health officials.
With so many of the deaths each year from around the world directly related to poor health choices we make, world health leaders have set a goal of lowering the number of preventable deaths by 25% from 2010 rates by 2025. That would save 37 million lives over 15 years. Reporting in the journal Lancet, public health experts note that the way to prevent those deaths aren’t surprising. But acting on those strategies will take individual and political will. Here’s how the experts hope to do it.
The UN General Assembly set a target of cutting smoking around the world by 30% by 2025. Already, higher-income nations that have adopted smoking bans in public places and instituted tobacco taxes have seen drops in smoking rates, although residents in lower income nations continue to light up at high rates.
Limiting excessive drinking.
While moderate amounts of alcohol have been linked to some health benefits, overindulging can increase the risk of certain cancers and liver disease, as well as contribute to high blood pressure. Educating people about the risks of excessive drinking, as well as instituting taxes on alcoholic products have been somewhat successful in curbing abuse.
Cutting back on salt.
High sodium diets can increase blood pressure and contribute to heart disease and stroke, and in many developed countries, people eat several times the amount the salt their bodies need. In the U.S., the average American consumes about 800mg more salt every day than health experts consider acceptable. Promoting alternatives, such as the citric acid in lemons, to satisfy the need for salt, can help to bring sodium consumption down.
Getting blood pressure under control.
Lack of exercise and high sodium diets contribute to hypertension, and uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart disease. Monitoring blood pressure with regular screenings, and treating elevated levels with changes in diet and exercise, or medications if necessary, are the most effective ways to address this risk factor.
Closely tied to the obesity epidemic that now affects developing as well as developed nations, diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and other conditions that can shorten life. Studies show that lifestyle changes incorporating healthy diets low in sugar and physical activity can be as effective as medications in keeping blood sugar levels in check.
The global growth in girth is tied to a number of factors, from the proliferation of processed and high calorie foods, to the shift toward sedentary lifestyles. Addressing obesity alone could also have beneficial effects in lowering other chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Public health campaigns highlighting the high calorie content of fast and processed foods, and programs that provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables, including in schools, could be important steps in turning the tide of the global obesity epidemic.