Assessing Global Health in Four Key Diseases

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

While reporting on South Korea’s high suicide mortality rate recently, I discovered an unique data set maintained by the World Health Organization.

It contains the probability that residents in each country will die from four noncommunicable diseases between the ages of 30 and 70. These are diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes. They can offer clues about a country’s overall health.

This type of illness are often caused by “modifiable risk factors”, according to the organization, such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.

“This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

The probability ranges wildly by country and region. Papua New Guinea tops the list with a 36% probability that its residents will die before age 70 from one of these four diseases.

South Korea, which has the industrialized world’s highest suicide mortality rate, largely propelled by its elderly population, shares with Iceland the lowest probably rate: 8.3%.

The rate in the United States is 13.3%, below the global average from this study, which is 18.8%, but still wedged between Panama and Slovenia.

Here’s how the different regions (as classified by the organization) differ:

And here are the countries, separated by region and sorted by highest probability:

Image of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva via Wikimedia Commons.