I was drawn to the World Health Organization’s recently published “The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update” through David Kenner’s review article in Foreign Policy. The WHO’s report is a snapshot of the world’s health as of 2004. From that, “using projections of economic growth and advances in medical treatment”, they extrapolate the leading causes of death in 2030.
It is interesting to me that the three causes expected to kill more people (heart disease, lung disease and traffic accidents) are each deaths by consumer choice in the use of fatty foods, tobacco, and automobiles.
I was surprised to see that tobacco consumption is expected to rise. But then again, it is reasonable that developing nations should buckle under the full weight of tobacco advertising just as we did. It is a pity that they can’t seem to skip that bit of our experience. But Big Tobacco can make the stuff for as little as it needs to keep the wholesale price low, and governments quickly become addicted to the tobacco sales taxes they collect. The guy on the street hardly stands a chance.
A final thought: when you add up the cost of the world’s military, the tobacco and road transportation industries, and the unhealthy parts of agribusiness, it quickly becomes apparent that modern capitalism is in large part an economy of death. I’m certain that is something we could change if we really wanted to.
First published: December 2008