A research team led by Colorado State University (CSU) has recently used one of the largest global health databases in the world (the Global Burden of Disease) to investigate the causes of deaths and disabilities in the state of Colorado over a period of 29 years, from 1990 to 1999. They found that cardiovascular disease and cancers accounted for over half of the deaths in Colorado during these decades.
According to the study findings, the number of deaths nearly doubled, from 21,171 in 1990 to 40,724 in 2019. While well-known culprits such as heart disease and cancer killed as usual an enormous number of people, other top risk factors for premature deaths included tobacco, drug use (which increased by 140 percent, particularly since the rise of opioids), high body-mass index, alcohol use (causing a 30 percent spike in kidney disease), and high blood sugar leading to diabetes. However, premature deaths caused by HIV/AIDS decreased by 82 percent, and transportation injuries also dropped by 40 percent.
The scientists claim that seeing tobacco at the top of the risk factors list came as a surprise. “It should be less of a problem, compared with years ago before people were aware of the health risks,” said study senior author Dr. David Rojas-Rueda, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at CSU. “But when you connect the idea that tobacco exposure will not become a disability or health concern until many years later — causing lung cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular problems — it makes sense. It’s a reminder that we should still pay attention to public health messaging related to tobacco.”
Another surprising finding was the significant impact of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly low back pain, on overall disability in Colorado. “When I think about debilitating diseases, low back pain doesn’t come to mind,” said study lead author Jen Roux, a graduate student in Public Health at CSU. “It is interesting to see the broad impact in Colorado and within the U.S. as well.” In fact, other studies show that low back pain is the leading cause of disability globally.
While data for 2020 will only become available in spring 2022, Dr. Rojas-Rueda claimed that, although COVID-19 will most probably be among the leading causes of death and disability, the other problems will still remain.
“These health problems will remain when the pandemic lessens. And we also need to be prepared for what we’re facing after the pandemic lifts, to some degree, in the future. This study is another reminder that we need to do better,” he concluded.
The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.