Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

Good news on living, dying

There's good news in a new and certifiable global trend: More elderly people are dying of cancer and heart disease.

That may not sound like good news, and in one obvious sense it isn't. But before you can die in old age of so-called "rich-country" ailments like these, you have to survive many decades. That so many people are doing so represents a huge achievement.

The evidence comes in a new report produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. It offers a lot of reasons to cheer.

First, infectious diseases kill far fewer people globally today than they did just two decades ago. Diarrhea, tuberculosis, malaria and measles have all dropped in the rankings of top causes of death. Better sanitation, greater availability of medicines and wider inoculations have played crucial roles.

Malnutrition is also subsiding. In 1981, 70 percent of the people in developing nations lived on less than $2 a day. Now, that share of the populace in those countries is down to 43 percent. And while malnutrition in 1990 was the world's top risk factor for deaths and years of life lost, by 2010 it had dropped to eighth.

In the aggregate, then, children in particular are remarkably less vulnerable than they used to be. Since 1990, the death rate of kids younger than age 5 has declined by some 60 percent.

Here is an odd but definite sign of progress in the effort to reduce poverty: More people now die from obesity-related illnesses than from lack of food.

The progress has not been uniform across the globe. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers disproportionately from childhood illnesses and lethal infections, including AIDS. But even there, the average age at death has risen by 10 years since 1970: As more children survive — other effects in a society remaining static — the average age of all its deaths rises. In North Africa, Latin America and Asia, the increase since 1970 in the age of death has been more than 25 years.

As causes of death shift from infectious to non-communicable diseases, AIDS is a global outlier: It may have peaked, but its effect remains steady, claiming some 1.5 million lives worldwide every year.

It's heartening to know that big, positive changes can occur in places that were sometimes seen as hopeless. The measures that have brought about this progress can be reinforced and expanded to make sure it continues.

But there is some bad news. Millions of people still die prematurely from diseases linked to the choices they make — on things like smoking, eating and exercising. Tobacco use alone claims 6 million lives a year. Preventing cancer, heart disease and diabetes often means persuading people to change how they live, and that's not easy to do.

Smoking is a tough habit to break. Rising incomes and cheap, tasty food have helped produce an epidemic of obesity. There is no vaccine for aversion to exercise. The increase in lifestyle-related diseases means that while people are living longer, many of them are also living sicker and requiring more medical treatment, which drives up costs.

That's the unfortunate price of progress against all sorts of ailments that kill young and old alike. But the progress is real, and it's welcome.

© 2012 Chicago Tribune

Comments
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18