Each year, The Lancet publishes the global burden of disease, including the leading cuases of lost years of life around the world. The lovely people at Vox extrapolated that data and superimposed it on a map of the world (see below) as a great visual representation of worldwide disease burdens.
The public health and health policy implications of this map are enormous. It’s no surprise that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, although new data from the CDC demonstrates that the US is making progress on many of the leading causes of death. But the overwhelming burden of disease worldwide can be linked to heart disease – although a quick glance at the map shows that mostly wealthy industrialized nations are affected by this disease and stroke, which is closely linked to heart disease. The underlying risk factors for both of these causes of death are nearly identical and at least in the US largely related to our sedentary, overweight lifestyles. Health policy measures to promote healthier eating and more active lifestyles are essential to combating stroke and heart disease.
But the map also demonstrates the role that poverty plays in the global disease burden, with malaria, HIV/AIDS, pre-term birth, diarrheal illnesses, and even violence in large part due to poverty and inadequately funded health infrastructures. Solving the health problems of the African continent isn’t only about promoting vaccines, condoms, and sanitation – lifting Africa out of poverty may have an even greater effect than any of these other measures.