Downside of Development: Global Growth in Cancer and Obesity

5285930549_ae13591c3b_zA bevy of new analyses illustrate the “otherside of development:” Growth in illness and health risk-factors that accompany increased development and corresponding expansion of life expectancy and changes in lifestyle.

A series in the journal Lancet has examined global growth in obesity, cholesterol and blood pressure between 1980 and 2008. Obesity is potentially the most interesting factor to pay attention to, since the other two are risk factors whose stand-alone significance are not yet fully understood, especially among populations that have not received significant study (any one who is not a middle-aged, white Euro-American male with few co-morbidities, in other words.)

A Bloated World:

--Globally, obesity as defined as a BMI above 30 grew swelled from 4.8 percent in men and 7.9 percent in women in 1980 to 9.8 and 13.8 percent respectively.

--Nations in the Pacific islands are the most obese, with a BMI averaging 34-35.

--Among developed nations the USA outweighs the pack, with BMI averaging over 28 for men and women, Japan and Singapore are the slimmest at around 23.

Cancer Rates Malignant

Another report from the American Cancer Society paints a dismal picture of global cancer statistics in their second edition of Global Cancer Facts & Figures. This report has a special section on Africa, where improvements in public health and development are increasing life expectancies, but also cancer rates. In 2008 the continent say some 680,000 new cancer cases, and 512,000 deaths from the disease. The aging population will lead to a near doubling of those figures by 2030.

Cancer is now more widespread in the developing world than the developed world: Of the 12.7 million new cases and 7.6 million cancer deaths in 2008, 56% of cases and 63% of deaths occurred in the developing world. Cancers in the developing world are more likely to be infectious in nature (cervical cancer, for example), while the leading cancers in the develop world are prostate for men and breast for women. Further, while declining smoking rates in the most western countries are leading to a rapid decline in lung cancers, Asia, China in particular, and Africa are being heavily targeted by the tobacco industry, resulting in rapidly growing lung cancer rates.

While survival rates from cancer are increasing in the developing world, current cancer care tends to be complex and focus intensively on the health care system. This means it will take some creative redesign to build the capacity of many developing regions to cope with the growing burdens associated with this disease.

While it has always seemed like a forgone conclusion that development changes the disease equation from infectious to chronic varieties, one has to ask whether this is in fact an inevitability. Does development always have to result in the type of over-consuming and sedentary lifestyles that smother us softly in their comparative luxury? Or are there ways of designing development to promote better chronic health, as well as short term survival?

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