Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Globe Article on Cost of Chronic Disease

Today's Globe has this important article on the scourge of the 21st century-- chronic disease. But as I note in the comments section for the article, unfortunately the article does not address the biggest risk factor, by far, for chronic disease- *age*.

On this WHO website the fact that chronic disease killed 9 million people under the age of 60 last year is highlighted. This is of course a human tragedy that should be mitigated. That is twice the number of deaths estimated to be caused by all injuries in the world.

However, if you do the math on this data, that means that 27 million people worldwide died from chronic disease that is caused (primarily, though the story is complex) by aging. This is 75% of the world's chronic disease burden.

Aging is the leading cause of disease and death in the world today. This is a unique event in human history. Most humans that lived before us died earlier in life from infectious disease, starvation, violence, etc. Now is the first time in human history that the inborn aging process itself is a serious health threat to human populations. Not only that, it is the largest health threat today. In just a decade of the chronic diseases of aging the world's population will suffer more more disease and death than in any decade of the worst wars and conflicts in human history.

Everyone agrees that conflict and war is bad for us, and that our governments should strive to ensure there is lasting peace between nations. And yet few people today realize how important it is that our governments also support the science and innovation that could modulate the rate of biological aging, thus keeping our bodies and minds healthy for as long as possible.

If we hope to make a serious dent on the tsunami of chronic disease that will afflict the 2 billion people worldwide who will be over age 60 by the middle of this century we need to prioritize the study of the biology of aging. Only by retarding the process of cellular and molecular decline can we hope to delay, and possibly compress, chronic disease in the foreseeable future.