SINGAPORE - Suicide and heart attack were the top causes of deaths among 15- to 49-year-olds here last year, accounting for 337 lives, while the top killer for those aged 70 and older was pneumonia.
These figures, which did not go into greater detail, come from a global study published in The Lancet medical journal yesterday comparing causes of death and burden of disease in 188 countries between 1990 and last year.
In that period, global life expectancy went up from 65.3 years to 71.5 years - though people in Singapore fared far better with women living an average of 84 years and men 79.7 years.
The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with hundreds of collaborators from around the world led by Professor Christopher Murray of the University of Washington.
Prof Murray said collective action against potentially deadly infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, measles, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria has had a huge impact in reducing deaths.
But he added that some major chronic diseases have been neglected and are becoming increasing threats to life, particularly drug disorders, liver cirrhosis, diabetes and kidney disease.
In Singapore, deaths from chronic kidney disease and pancreatic cancer tripled between 1990 and last year. Pneumonia deaths also increased by 56 per cent.
Associate Professor Reshma Merchant, who heads general medicine at National University Hospital, said pneumonia in the elderly is often due to dementia or frailty that causes difficulty in swallowing.
She said: "Swallowing problems can have devastating health implications, including dehydration, malnutrition and pneumonia which affects quality of life and increases caregiver burden."
Deaths from congenital problems and asthma fell by 70 per cent and 39 per cent respectively.
The study noted gender differences with far more men in Singapore dying from lung cancer and women from stroke. Last year, 953 men and 550 women died of lung cancer; and 1,449 women and 1,044 men from stroke.
Dr Ross Soo, a senior cancer consultant at the National University Cancer Institute, said many studies show women with lung cancer do better than men - regardless of whether they have radiation or chemotherapy. He added: "The reasons for the gender differences are very complex and are not well understood."
At a global level, standardised for age, deaths from some cancers have fallen since 1990: lung by 9 per cent, breast by 18 per cent and leukaemia by 20 per cent. Deaths from heart disease and strokes have fallen by over 20 per cent.
This article was first published on Dec 19, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.