A recent large-scale study into poor health in the UK published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has shown that a high percentage of the burden of disease in the UK is caused by conditions that could be prevented by changes in lifestyle.
The report found that while the top causes of death in the UK – including ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, lung cancer, and lower respiratory infections – were mostly unchanged in the past 20 years, the burden of disease caused by disability has increased considerably.
This is due at least in part to the increase in life expectancy seen in recent years, meaning that people are living longer into old age than ever before.
The leading risk factor for poor health in the UK was found to be tobacco, followed by three other factors, each posing roughly equal risks: use of alcohol, elevated blood pressure, and high body mass index (BMI), with each causing around 9% of the overall burden of disease in the UK.
Poor diet and a lack of physical activity combined were found to account for 14.2% of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs), while high BMI was found to account for 8.6% of the burden by itself.
The poor health in the UK report also notes the fact that these risks contribute largely to increased rates of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
These findings are particularly interesting given that they are largely preventable, and suggest that changes in lifestyle such as improving diet, taking more exercise and stopping smoking could impact a large percentage of the burden of disease in the UK.