EARLY DEATH REPLACED BY DISABILITY AS MOST SIGNIFICANT HEALTH RISK
“The health of most of the planet’s population is rapidly coming to resemble that of the United States, where death in childhood is rare, too much food is a bigger problem than too little, and life is long and often darkened by disability.
“High blood pressure is now the leading ‘risk factor’ for disease around the world. Alcohol use is third. Low-back pain now causes more disability than childbirth complications or anemia.
“We are in transition to a world where disability is the dominant concern as opposed to premature death, said Christopher Murray, who headed the Global Burden of Disease Study, published on [December 13, 2012].
“The pace of change is such that we are ill prepared to deal with what the burden of disease is now in most places.
“The risk of dying prematurely from many ‘adult diseases’ (such as heart attacks and cancer) has also fallen because of better treatment and prevention. As a result, the average age of the world’s population is getting older. Soon after 2015, for the first time in history, there will be more people older than 65 than younger than 5. That has had two consequences.
“More people are surviving to die of diseases that occur only in old age. . . . At the same time, people are living with conditions that don’t kill them, but that do affect their health.
” . . . the study should prompt us to think hard about what are the major causes of disability today, and what are the possible solutions that can accelerate progress against them.”
The independent living movement will be challenged to modify our advocacy to account for these changes. During the first half of the 20th Century, polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases. A handful of polio survivors were among the first leaders of our movement. As polio and other infectious diseases are reduced or eliminated, new mostly chronic diseases occupy our attention and healthcare resources. Going forward, we will be required to expand our scope of practice to include advocacy for the full range of disabled citizens. In order to maintain our effectiveness, it seems to be incumbent upon us that we play a partnership role in reducing the incidence and severity of these mostly preventable diseases.