The Good News, Bad News and Mixed News From New World Health Statistics

The World Health Organization just released its annual World Health Statistics, in which number crunchers and statisticians distill the latest measurable trends in global health. This is no easy task (and if you want some insights into how WHO experts come up with this figures, check out this Reuters profile of the trade craft).

So, what sticks out this out this year as particularly noteworthy? Three trends worth watching:

The Good News: Improvements in Child Health

There have been significant improvements in child health, particularly the sharp decline in measles deaths since 2000.  Twelve years ago, 477,000 children died from measles. In just 10 years, measles deaths have been cut by 74%, to less than 114,000 deaths worldwide. This is still a huge number, but it shows how successful public vaccination campaigns were over the past decade.

Bad News: A Fatter Planet

We, as a planet, are getting heavier. About 2.8 billion people die each year as a consequence of being overweight or obese. (Which increases risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and diabetes). Between 1980 and 2008, the data shows that worldwide prevalence of obesity almost doubled.  The Americas are hit the hardest by this trend, but Africa and other regions in the developing world have experienced sharp increases in obesity rates as well. This poses all sorts of health hazards, which in turn could strain already fragile health care systems down the road.

The Mixed News: Maternal Deaths 

Pregnancy is less dangerous than it used to be, but still unacceptably dangerous in some parts of the world. Over the past 20 years, maternal mortality rates have dropped by almost 50% worldwide, from more than 540,000 deaths in 1990 to 290,000 deaths in 2010.  Progress on this front, though, has been extremely uneven. One third of maternal deaths today occur in just two countries (Nigeria and India). In sub-saharan africa as a whole, about 500 women die per 100,000 births.  So, while there has been demonstrable progress on maternal mortality globally, rates are still unacceptably high in much of the developing world.

If you are interested in these kinds of statistics, I recommend you skim through the full report, which was posted to the WHO website this morning.  There is a wealth of global  health information contained therein.