Seven out of ten global deaths are caused by chronic illnesses

Seven out of ten global deaths are caused by chronic illnesses

Chronic illnesses are the cause of 41 million deaths worldwide. The vast majority occur in low-income countries and can be linked to poverty. In developed countries such as Denmark, an increase in chronic illnesses is partly due to the fact that we live longer.

Chronic illnesses are most severe in low-income countries

The WHO states that the widespread occurrence of chronic illnesses in developing countries can challenge the efforts to reach the sustainable development goal of reducing the number of premature deaths by one third by 2030.

More than eight out of ten deaths caused by chronic illnesses occur in low- or middle-income countries. That number can increase if the current trend continues. The children, adults and elderly in these countries are at greater risk of developing chronic illnesses.

This applies in particular to the chronic illnesses linked to lifestyle. Unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco smoke and excessive consumption of alcohol occur more frequently in developing countries, which results in the people of these countries being more prone to developing chronic illnesses.

In addition to the lifestyle being generally unhealthier in developing countries, the costs of health care and medicine are also relatively more expensive. The costs of these can often ruin the budget of an entire household, which in turn leads to worse living conditions for the remaining occupants, which in turn creates a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses and dying prematurely. It is a vicious cycle that seems hard to end.


What is a chronic illness?

A chronic illness does not necessarily have to last a lifetime. A chronic illness is defined as lasting more than 12 months and/or being recurrent and requiring medical treatment.

Cardiovascular disease is the cause of most deaths

Cardiovascular disease alone is responsible for nearly half of all deaths caused by chronic illnesses. The most common cause of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can be caused by several things. Smoking, physical inactivity, hereditary propensity, elevated cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes and several other things.


Four major chronic illnesses are the cause of eight out of ten chronic deaths. Data: WHO. Graphic: Nicolai Dandanell.

A common characteristic of the four major causes of the chronic illnesses seen around the world is the fact that smoking is one of the major risk factors for all of them. Thus, if you want to prevent developing a chronic illness, it is a good idea to seek help to stop smoking. 


Some chronic illnesses can be a positive indication

In an article on, Michael Hvidbjerg, Ph.D. and author of a new large Danish study on chronic illnesses, point out that in some places chronic illnesses occur more frequently as we live longer. If chronic illnesses are to stem from lifestyle conditions then a person must have had the same lifestyle over a course of time. The longer the course is - the greater the risk is of the lifestyle resulting in a chronic illness.

In another article regarding the same study, it is shown how people over the age of 75 on average suffer from five different chronic illnesses and how one in ten on average suffers from more than ten chronic illnesses. It also shows that up to twice as many Danes live with a chronic illness today than before. Michael Hvidbjerg believes that this is partly because we live longer. The study was done by Aalborg University.



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