Live Long & Prosper

If you want to live a full, healthy life and not check out early, the results of a study into what causes preventable adult deaths in the US should make us all sit up and listen. Designed to assist policy makers prioritise health messages, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health set out to discover the effect of twelve identified risk factors on the 2.5 million adult US deaths in 2005.

The study The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparitive Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle and Metabolic Risk Factors (PLos Medicine, April 09) identified twelve risk factors: high blood pressure, high glucose levels, high LDL cholesterol, high intake of trans fatty acids, being overweight, deficiency of polyunsaturated fatty acids and of Omega 3 fatty acids, low fruit and veg consumption, high salt use, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol.

Using data retrieved from US national health surveys and statistics on the 2.5 million deaths from different diseases in 2005 from the US National Center for Health Statistics, the researchers applied a complex mathematical model to try to estimate the number of deaths related to each risk factor.

Smoking came top as the biggest risk factor with an estimated 467,000 preventable deaths attributed to the habit. High blood pressure came second with 395,000. Between them, these top two accounted for around one in every five or six US adult deaths.  Obesity came third with 216,000, followed by physical inactivity (191,000) and combined they are estimated to account for nearly one in ten US adult deaths.

Next came the specific dietary factors: high salt intake (102,000), low omega 3 fatty acids (84,000) and high trans fats (82,000). Whilst moderate alcohol use is thought to have actually prevented 26,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, it was far outweighed by the 90,000 deaths that were thought to be related to alcohol use which went on to cause preventable deaths from other cardiovascular problems, cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, alcohol abuse, road traffic, injury and violence.

Moral of the story? Here’s a checklist for long-term health based on their findings. Nothing new really, but it should serve to remind us that they are vitally important to long-term health. Follow as many of these as you can to live long and prosper!

  1. Stop smoking
  2. Keep your blood pressure controlled
  3. Maintain a healthy weight, keep your blood sugar balanced, eat plenty of fruit and veg and develop a programme of regular exercise
  4. Avoid added salt
  5. Increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids with fish, nuts and seeds
  6. Don’t eat trans-fats in processed foods
  7. Drink alcohol in moderation

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