Contemporary comparisons reinforce the connection between living standards and health: in Africa, where the average individual income is only $637 per annum, male life expectancy is 51.5. In Asia, yearly income is £1,848 per capita and people can expect to live for 63 years. In Europe and the Americas where individual income is more than $10,000, average life expectancy is nearly 70. Clearly poverty is the world's deadliest disease
Today, the main killers in Western society are heart disease, cancer and stroke, comprising over 60% of all deaths in the United States. But epidemiology has again shown how most of these can be avoided. Prior to 1948, when the famous Framingham study was initiated, little was known about the causes of heart disease. There were clues however, and during the 1930s epidemiology showed that atherosclerosis is only prevalent in countries with a high consumption of animal fats.(4) Atherosclerosis is the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries eventually leading to heart disease and strokes.
The Framingham project aimed to determine 'factors influencing the development of heart disease' and for years monitored the health of the people in the small Massachusetts town who participated in the study. The findings, which indicated smoking, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, now form the bedrock of preventive health policy. Further epidemiological studies identified lack of exercise as another important risk: London bus drivers were compared with their more active colleagues, bus conductors.
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