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      Comparative quantification of health risks: Conceptual framework and methodological issues

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          Abstract

          Reliable and comparable analysis of risks to health is key for preventing disease and injury. Causal attribution of morbidity and mortality to risk factors has traditionally been conducted in the context of methodological traditions of individual risk factors, often in a limited number of settings, restricting comparability.

          In this paper, we discuss the conceptual and methodological issues for quantifying the population health effects of individual or groups of risk factors in various levels of causality using knowledge from different scientific disciplines. The issues include: comparing the burden of disease due to the observed exposure distribution in a population with the burden from a hypothetical distribution or series of distributions, rather than a single reference level such as non-exposed; considering the multiple stages in the causal network of interactions among risk factor(s) and disease outcome to allow making inferences about some combinations of risk factors for which epidemiological studies have not been conducted, including the joint effects of multiple risk factors; calculating the health loss due to risk factor(s) as a time-indexed "stream" of disease burden due to a time-indexed "stream" of exposure, including consideration of discounting; and the sources of uncertainty.

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          Most cited references 95

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          Global mortality, disability, and the contribution of risk factors: Global Burden of Disease Study.

          Prevention and control of disease and injury require information about the leading medical causes of illness and exposures or risk factors. The assessment of the public-health importance of these has been hampered by the lack of common methods to investigate the overall, worldwide burden. The Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) provides a standardised approach to epidemiological assessment and uses a standard unit, the disability-adjusted life year (DALY), to aid comparisons. DALYs for each age-sex group in each GBD region for 107 disorders were calculated, based on the estimates of mortality by cause, incidence, average age of onset, duration, and disability severity. Estimates of the burden and prevalence of exposure in different regions of disorders attributable to malnutrition, poor water supply, sanitation and personal and domestic hygiene, unsafe sex, tobacco use, alcohol, occupation, hypertension, physical inactivity, use of illicit drugs, and air pollution were developed. Developed regions account for 11.6% of the worldwide burden from all causes of death and disability, and account for 90.2% of health expenditure worldwide. Communicable, maternal, perinatal, and nutritional disorders explain 43.9%; non-communicable causes 40.9%; injuries 15.1%; malignant neoplasms 5.1%; neuropsychiatric conditions 10.5%; and cardiovascular conditions 9.7% of DALYs worldwide. The ten leading specific causes of global DALYs are, in descending order, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoeal diseases, perinatal disorders, unipolar major depression, ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, tuberculosis, measles, road-traffic accidents, and congenital anomalies. 15.9% of DALYs worldwide are attributable to childhood malnutrition and 6.8% to poor water, and sanitation and personal and domestic hygiene. The three leading contributors to the burden of disease are communicable and perinatal disorders affecting children. The substantial burdens of neuropsychiatric disorders and injuries are under-recognised. The epidemiological transition in terms of DALYs has progressed substantially in China, Latin America and the Caribbean, other Asia and islands, and the middle eastern crescent. If the burdens of disability and death are taken into account, our list differs substantially from other lists of the leading causes of death. DALYs provide a common metric to aid meaningful comparison of the burden of risk factors, diseases, and injuries.
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            Actual causes of death in the United States.

             J McGinnis,  W Foege (1993)
            To identify and quantify the major external (nongenetic) factors that contribute to death in the United States. Articles published between 1977 and 1993 were identified through MEDLINE searches, reference citations, and expert consultation. Government reports and complications of vital statistics and surveillance data were also obtained. Sources selected were those that were often cited and those that indicated a quantitative assessment of the relative contributions of various factors to mortality and morbidity. Data used were those for which specific methodological assumptions were stated. A table quantifying the contributions of leading factors was constructed using actual counts, generally accepted estimates, and calculated estimates that were developed by summing various individual estimates and correcting to avoid double counting. For the factors of greatest complexity and uncertainty (diet and activity patterns and toxic agents), a conservative approach was taken by choosing the lower boundaries of the various estimates. The most prominent contributors to mortality in the United States in 1990 were tobacco (an estimated 400,000 deaths), diet and activity patterns (300,000), alcohol (100,000), microbial agents (90,000), toxic agents (60,000), firearms (35,000), sexual behavior (30,000), motor vehicles (25,000), and illicit use of drugs (20,000). Socioeconomic status and access to medical care are also important contributors, but difficult to quantify independent of the other factors cited. Because the studies reviewed used different approaches to derive estimates, the stated numbers should be viewed as first approximations. Approximately half of all deaths that occurred in 1990 could be attributed to the factors identified. Although no attempt was made to further quantify the impact of these factors on morbidity and quality of life, the public health burden they impose is considerable and offers guidance for shaping health policy priorities.
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              Use and misuse of population attributable fractions.

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Popul Health Metr
                Population Health Metrics
                BioMed Central (London )
                1478-7954
                2003
                14 April 2003
                : 1
                : 1
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Evidence and Information for Health Policy, World Health Organization, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
                [2 ]Risk, Resources and Environmental Management Division, Resources for the Future, 1616 P Street NW, Washington DC 20036, USA
                [3 ]School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston Road, Herston Qld 4006, Australia
                [4 ]Clinical Trials Research Unit (CTRU), University of Auckland, PB 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
                Article
                1478-7954-1-1
                10.1186/1478-7954-1-1
                156894
                12780936
                Copyright © 2003 Murray et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original URL.
                Categories
                Review

                Health & Social care

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