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Researchers report global mortality rates tracked over 30 years

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Mortality rates for heart disease and stroke, along with stomach and cervical cancers, have declined worldwide over the last 30 years according to a recent report published in the September edition of Health Affairs by researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and Imperial College London.  However, during that same time frame, there were increases in death rates due to diabetes and liver cancer, as well as from chronic respiratory disease and from lung cancer in women.

Led by Mohammed K. Ali, MD, MSC, associate professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health and the Department of Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health, the research team examined mortality data for the four most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that cumulatively account for approximately half of all deaths worldwide. They compiled data from 49 countries on deaths during 1980-2012 using the World Health Organization’s Mortality Database.

The report also highlighted disparities in mortality patterns among various countries. Compared to decreasing mortality rates noted in high-income countries, low-and-middle-income countries experienced increases in breast and colon cancer deaths and less impressive declines for other cancers and for heart disease.

"We found an interesting mix of increasing and decreasing death rates due to NCDs across various countries," explains Ali. "We believe that these differing patterns reflect differences in countries’ stages of development and health care systems. However, the story is still incomplete, because raw cause-of-death data from China, India and sub-Saharan Africa were still not adequate enough to be included in our study. This compels us to continue to strive for better surveillance and cause-of-death documentation."

"Also, because NCDs have multiple causes and characteristics unique to each setting, continued investments in implementation science are needed to understand what health care and societal interventions, singly or in combination, really work and in what contexts," says Ali.

The report abstract is available online at:     


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