Lifestyle Diseases:
A  Matter of Choice.
Epidemiology of Top Afflictions

This section is broadly titled "Lifestyle Diseases" and will examine the major epidemics sweeping America today.

Epidemiology examines the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in specific populations, in our case, the United States.  It is "evidence based research" with the purpose of accumulating data to arrive at logical interventions for public health.  

Unfortunately in our drug based culture, "intervention" usually means prescribing the latest pharmaceutical instead of commonsense nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Thus, the objective will be to show how these diseases flow from choices we make and how a few adjustments in our lifestyle can restore health and prolong life.

Depending on your age, this may be your main topic of discussion.  This was brought home while sitting in a restaurant at a Florida golf course where most of the patrons appeared to be elderly retirees.  Doing a little eavesdropping, many conversations seemed to center on comparisons of what pills they were taking or their latest ailments.

Unfortunately, lifestyle diseases are not just confined to the elderly.  Epidemics of autism and diabetes are rampant among young people today.  Obesity and the health challenges it entails are epidemic in our population.

We will examine those health issues that can be attributed to lifestyle.  In this context, the lifestyle diseases are identified as heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.  We will also look at the  autoimmune diseases as a category, some of which may or may not be influenced by lifestyle.

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There are several lifestyle diseases we will look at that affect children and young people.  One example is autism.  It is now epidemic among children but theories about the cause abound and the jury is still out. 

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is another "young person" condition that generates a lot of controversy.

Some argue that it is not a health condition at all but a creation of the pharmaceutical industry.

What used to be mostly senior citizen health concerns have now gone mainstream and permeate the population.  Elementary school kids are now defined by their asthma and allergies, attention deficit disorders, weight issues and diabetes.

Young adults are also increasingly defined by their overweight and obesity afflictions, or diabetes, or stress induced cardiovascular conditions or sadly, more and more incidents of cancer.

In the elder groups, we see the same afflictions but with the addition of more degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and cognitive afflictions. 

Our healthcare system is getting better all the time at treating these conditions but prevention leaves a lot to be desired.  In spite of advances in medical technology, we seem to be getting sicker and sicker as a nation.

Putting Lifestyle Diseases in Perspective

In order to put the disease data that follows in perspective, we need to get a handle on the population figures of the United States.  From the latest census data, we find:

As of mid-year, 2009, the census bureau's American Factfinder estimates the population of the U.S. to be 307,006,550. For simplicity, we will use a nice round 307 million as our total population.

By sex we have 150.43 million males (49%) and 156.57 million females (51%).
By age groups, we have:

  • 20,417,636 children under 5 years old (7%)
  • 19,709,887 children from 5 to 9 years old (6%)
  • 41,951,583 pre-teen and teenagers from 10 to 19 years old (14%)
  • 61,527,219 young adults from 20 to 35 years old (21%)
  • 118,531,807 working age adults from 35 to 64 (40%)
  • 37,260,352 seniors 65 and over (12%)
  • It's interesting that in each age bracket the male/female balance is fairly close, give or take a few percentage points.  However, when we look at the over-65 crowd, the balance is skewed in favor of females;
    58% female to 42% male. 

    It must be all that broccoli, cauliflower, quiche and vegetable casseroles that the ladies eat.  Real men don't touch that stuff, we'd rather die early.  More steak and potatoes, please.

    Putting the Numbers to the
    Lifestyle Diseases

    Now it's time to visit the CDC and look at their statistics on our lifestyle diseases so we can see just how big a problem these health issues are.  The chart below compares the mortality rates for the top ten causes of death in the U.S. for 2003 and 2010 as compiled by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

    I wonder why they neglected to include deaths caused by U.S. Healthcare system.  All deaths due to medical mistakes, nursing home neglect, hospital acquired infections, surgical errors, prescription errors and the like for 2003 would exceed the total number of cancer and Heart disease fatalities shown. 

    It would be right at the top of the list at a little over 700,000 deaths. These are collectively known as Iatrogenic and Nosocomial events.

    Click here if you would like a deeper look into Iatrogenic and Nosocomial Deaths in the U.S.

    Top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.

    Mortality Figures for 2003 and 2010

  • Heart disease: 685,089 - 597,689
  • Cancer: 556,902 - 574,743
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 126,382 - 138,080
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 157,689 - 129,476
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 109,227 - 120,859
  • Alzheimer's disease: 63,457 - 83,494
  • Diabetes: 74,219 - 67,091
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 42,453 - 50,476
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 65,163 - 50,097
  • Suicide: 31,484 - 38,364
  • Source:

    Suicide is notable in that it has risen to the number 10 spot replacing Septicemia which slipped to number 11.

    Bringing the Lifestyle Diseases Forward

    Now let's check out the current estimates for some of these lifestyle diseases from the same CDC statistical source.

    Heart Disease:  Number One...
    of Fatal Lifestyle Diseases

    Heart Disease is the number 1 killer of the lifestyle diseases and yet it is very preventable.

    In 2010, the number of deaths from heart disease was 597,689; down from 685,089 in 2003.  That 12.7% decrease over 7 years is very good news and indicates something positive might be happening.  We will see.

    The CDC presents data in terms of deaths per 100,000 people in the population which gives us a good basis of comparing the incidence of diseases on an apples-to-apples basis.  So, we will show that data point for each disease we discuss.

    According to the CDC, we had 222 deaths from heart disease deaths per 100,000 people in 2005.

    Coronary artery bypass surgery Image 657B-PH.jpg

    They also present data on how many people have been diagnosed with a disease but not yet in a healthcare institution (hospital, nursing home or assisted living).

    Photo:  Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery 

    In 2006 there were 24.1 million (11%) non-institutionalized adults.

    Check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about having a "Healthy Heart for Life" by clicking on the book cover above, then please navigate to Heart Health for a look at the Epidemiology of U.S. heart disease and what changes we can make in our lifestyle to keep our hearts pumping and the blood flowing.

    Cancer:  Number Two...
    of Lifestyle Diseases that Kill

    Cancer is different than most other diseases in that it is not just one disease.  There are as many forms of cancer as there are body parts to be afflicted:  brain cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and on and on.  Each one has its own physiology but no matter where they first appear, they can metastasize and spread.

    A large percentage of cancers are self inflicted and we do have some control over those. 

    The numbers show 574,743 deaths in 2010, up from 556,902 in 2003, representing 192.7 deaths per 100,000.

    While the percentage increase in deaths is fairly small at 3.2%, it does indicate that cancer is gaining ground rather than losing it.

    Photo: Mastectomy specimen showing large breast cancer tumor

    Mastectomy specimen containing a large cancer of the breast: Emmanuelm

    In 2006 there were 15.8 million (7.2%) non-institutionalized adults who have ever been diagnosed with cancer.

    David Servan-Schreiber is a medical doctor, Ph.D and cancer survivor who wrote the definitive book on beating cancer. 

    Please click on the book cover above to look it over and then navigate to Cancer for a look at the Epidemiology of the major types of cancer in the U.S. and what changes we can make in our lifestyle to keep the tumors at bay and eliminate damaged and mutated cells that lead to cancer.

    Lower Respiratory Diseases
    Big Number Three

    The number 3 spot for Lifestyle Diseases goes to Respiratory Conditions (bronchitis, emphysema and asthma).

    It is interesting that respiratory diseases replaced stroke as the 3rd leading cause of death in 2010.

    Combined deaths from bronchitis, emphysema and asthma totaled 138,080 in 2010, up from 126,382 in 2003.  This was 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

    Centrilobular emphysema characteristic of smoking, Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, 1973

    The increase of 11,698 is 9.25% and is a dramatic increase since 2007.  From 2003 to 2007 the increase was only 3.6%

    Why the direction is up while numbers of smokers is on the decline is something that needs to be investigated. 

    Not smoking and avoiding second hand smoke is the greatest lifestyle choices that can be made to protect oneself from lower respiratory disease.

    Looking at each condition separately, in 2006 there were 9.5 million non-institutionalized adults with diagnosed chronic bronchitis, representing 4.3% of the population.

    Photo:  Pathology of lung showing emphysema characteristic of smoking

    For the same period, there were 4.1 million non-institutionalized adults who had ever been diagnosed with emphysema, at 1.8% of the population.

    Asthma came in with 16.1 million non-institutionalized adults at 7.3% of the population.

    The major lung diseases are covered in the section on the respiratory system.

    Cerebral Infarction (Stroke): 
    Number 4 of the Lifestyle Diseases

    It seems that strokes should be lumped in with heart diseases since the pathology is much the same but due to the location and numbers of deaths, the CDC breaks it out as a separate condition.

    Slice of brain from autopsy showing acute middle artery stroke, Marvin 101, 2006-09-01

    2010 logged 129,476 stroke deaths, down from 157,689 in 2003.  This was 43.4 deaths per 100,000.  Here we have another good news story resulting in an 17.8% drop during the seven-year period.

    In the page on strokes, we will explore the reasons why and see if we can improve on that with some focused lifestyle changes.

    Photo:  Acute middle cerebral artery stroke

    In 2006 we had 5.6 million non-institutionalized adults who ever had a stroke which was 2.6% of the population.

    Please navigate toStroke for a look at the Epidemiology of stokes in the U.S. and what changes we can make in our lifestyle to maintain normal blood flow and blood pressure in our brains.

    Accidental Death Takes
    the Number Five Spot

    Since Accidents, meaning unintentional deaths, were in the number five spot at 120,859 deaths in 2010, we will jump to number six since accidents are not a disease.

    Alzheimer’s:  Meet Number Six,
    Most Feared of the Lifestyle Diseases...

    There is a lot of dispute over whether or not this is a normal disease of old age, an inherited genetic condition or something we do to ourselves.

    neurofibrillary tangle, National Institute on Aging

    Reported deaths from Alzheimer’s in 2010 were 83,494, up from 63,457 in 2003.  This was a pretty frightening increase of 31.6% in a seven year period.  The deaths per 100,000 were 28.0.

    Photo:  Microscopy image of neurofibrillary tangle in brain typical of Alzheimer's disease

    Two truly alarming statistics from the CDC shows that in 2009, there were 61,146 hospice patients with Alzheimer's as a primary diagnosis and 1,344,664 residents in nursing homes with moderate to severe cognitive impairment.  What is alarming is that these numbers will eventually show up in the mortality numbers for some future year.

    Please navigate to Alzheimer’s Disease for a look at the Epidemiology of cognitive degeneration in the U.S. and what changes we can make in our lifestyle to keep our brain cells fed and healthy.

    Before moving on, get familiar with coconut oil.  It is showing itself to be quite a potent force in support cognitive function.

    Raw Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

    Diabetes has the Number Seven
    Honor for Lifestyle Diseases.

    The last Lifestyle Disease we will consider is Diabetes. It is possibly the fastest growing disease condition affecting all age groups.  Evidence is that the epidemic is being driven by poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles and chronic overweight and obesity. 

    The causes and treatment will be examined as well as preventative lifestyle changes we can make to avoid this disease.

    In 2010, deaths from diabetes totaled 69,071, down from 74,219 in 2003; a 6.9% decrease.  This was 23.1 deaths per 100,000 but the good news is that even though the rate of new diabetes diagnoses is still rising, the number of deaths is declining.  The conclusion seems to be that we are managing diabetes better but not controlling its onset.

    The CDC tells us that between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of non-institutionalized adults 20 years and older with diagnosed diabetes was 11.9% and with undiagnosed diabetes was 3.4%.  I'm not sure how they came up with a figure for "undiagnosed" diabetes; maybe they have a good Ouija board.

    Please navigate to Diabetes for a look at the Epidemiology of diabetes in the U.S. and what changes we can make in our lifestyle to keep our blood sugar and insulin release normal and maintain a happy pancreas.

    What will be shown in the links referenced above is that the named lifestyle diseases are self-inflicted to a large extent and that the suffering caused by them can be alleviated or avoided entirely by making changes in our lifestyle. 

    The physiology of how these conditions form are examined so as to see the relationship between what we do and what we come down with. compiles health news written by medical doctors.

    Since we are talking about diseases caused by how we live our lives, here is a Med-Health take on the causes of lifestyle diseases and how they affect people; it could show a different perspective.

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