A comprehensive study has brought to light the potential for improvement in the health of almost everyone, highlighting the evolving connection between lifestyle risk factors and mortality rates over time. Despite the success of public health campaigns in reducing smoking rates, the study reveals an unexpected rise in mortality risk among smokers. Simultaneously, while the prevalence of obesity and diabetes has increased, associated risks have decreased, underscoring the effectiveness of modern treatments. Notably, the study also highlights a growing mortality risk associated with not completing high school.
Population-level research indicates that virtually all individuals have areas where they can strive for better health.
A recent in-depth, long-term analysis of population-level data reveals that practically everyone can make improvements in their health. Furthermore, the study unravels how the relationship between risk factors and mortality evolves over time, often leading to surprising findings.
Dr. Jennifer Kuk, the lead author of the study and an Associate Professor with the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at the Faculty of Health, remarks, “These numbers can be interpreted as either good news or bad news, depending on one’s perspective. Our findings indicate that the relationship between risk factors and mortality changes over time, which can be attributed to factors such as advancements in treatments and shifting social stigmas. Overall, most of us have underlying health concerns, and we are more likely to possess a lifestyle-related health risk factor now compared to the 1980s. Shockingly, these factors are associated with even greater mortality risks today.”
Published recently in the journal PLOS One, the research employed survey data from the United States spanning the periods 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2014. The research team assessed the five-year mortality odds for individuals aged 20 or older by examining 19 different risk factors. The data was adjusted for age, sex, obesity category, and ethnicity. The overall findings indicated that less than three percent of individuals had none of the risk factors. While previous research has extensively documented these risk factors, understanding their relationship with mortality over time has remained relatively unclear. Dr. Kuk and her research team discovered that this relationship could sometimes be paradoxical.
For instance, smoking rates, which have long been associated with conditions like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes that can lead to death, have decreased overall due to successful public health campaigns. However, the overall risk of being a smoker has increased over time. Dr. Kuk suggests that this increase could potentially be attributed to the growing stigma surrounding the addiction as it becomes less common and public awareness of its risks expands. This shift in perception might also be reflected in research funding.
Dr. Kuk’s primary area of research is obesity, where she found that while its prevalence has risen, the associated risks have declined.
“Despite the increasing number of people affected by obesity, it is not resulting in higher mortality rates over time. This underscores our proficiency in treating the health outcomes associated with obesity. Regardless of our body weight, most of us can find areas in which we can improve,” states Dr. Kuk.
The study also highlighted several other health trends observed in the data:
- Diabetes and hypertension rates have increased over time, but the associated risks have decreased.
- A decline in physical activity is now linked to worse outcomes compared to the past.
- Being on mental health medications was not a significant risk factor in the 1980s, but in the later dataset, it was associated with increased mortality.
- Not completing high school is now associated with health risks, while it was not in the 1980s.
Dr. Kuk emphasizes that the research indicates the potential for improvement across various factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug intake. However, she also highlights the existence of factors beyond individual control.
“As a society, we need to acknowledge that health may not be an easy choice for many individuals, considering factors such as food insecurity and low education. Sensitivity towards these issues is crucial when assessing risk factors,” advises Dr. Kuk.
Reference: “Is anyone truly healthy? Trends in health risk factors prevalence and changes in their associations with all-cause mortality” by Winnie W. Yu, Rubin Pooni, Chris I. Ardern, and Jennifer L. Kuk, 2 June 2023, PLOS ONE.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about health trends
What does the comprehensive study reveal about health and mortality?
The comprehensive study reveals that almost everyone has room for improvement in their health. It highlights the evolving connections between lifestyle risk factors and mortality rates over time.
What are some notable findings of the study?
The study found that despite successful public health campaigns, the mortality risk for smokers has actually risen. Additionally, while the prevalence of obesity and diabetes has increased, the associated risks have decreased. The study also identified a growing mortality risk associated with not completing high school.
How was the research conducted?
The research utilized United States survey data from two different time periods (1988-1994 and 1999-2014). The researchers analyzed 19 different risk factors and adjusted the data for age, sex, obesity category, and ethnicity to assess the five-year mortality odds for individuals aged 20 or older.
What are some other health trends identified in the study?
The study revealed that diabetes and hypertension rates have increased over time, but the associated risks have decreased. It also found that not engaging in regular exercise is now linked to worse outcomes compared to the past. Moreover, being on mental health medications was associated with increased mortality in the later dataset, whereas it was not a significant risk factor in the 1980s.
What are the implications of these findings?
The findings suggest that there is potential for improvement in various areas such as diet, exercise, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and drug use. However, the study also highlights the importance of addressing societal factors like food insecurity and low education, as they can hinder individuals’ ability to make healthy choices.
More about health trends
- Study: “Is anyone truly healthy? Trends in health risk factors prevalence and changes in their associations with all-cause mortality” (PLOS ONE): Link