Health and happiness facts

Conditions that may directly or indirectly be affected by emotional well-being include some of the world’s biggest killers: heart disease, obesity, hypertension, tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, suicide, and conditions related to alcohol dependency and binge drinking.

Following are a few statistics on happiness, and on some of the diseases and conditions upon which happiness may have an impact. These numbers suggest the scale of the challenges faced in the global health community, and the scope of positive impact happiness and health research may have.

Happiness around the globe

  • Research involving representative samples of 95 percent of the world’s population suggests that “emotions matter to health everywhere.” The emotion-health connection is not unique to certain countries, regions, or levels of economic development.
  • According to the United Nations 2016 World Happiness Report, which ranked 157 countries by the happiness of their populations:
    • Denmark ranked number one
    • The U.S. ranked 13th

SOURCES: Is the Emotion-Health Connection a “First-World Problem”?; World Happiness Report 2016; Socio-economic development and emotion-health connection revisited: a multilevel modeling analysis using data from 162 counties in China

Health around the globe

Heart disease


  • Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number 1 cause of death globally: Around the world, an estimated 17 million people die of cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, every year.


  • About half of U.S. adults (47 percent) have at least one of the following major risk factors for heart disease or stroke: uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled high LDL cholesterol, or are current smokers.
  • The total costs of heart disease and stroke in 2010 were estimated to be $315.4 billion.

SOURCES: Centre for Health Protection: Heart diseases; Department of Health: Coronary heart diseases; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Deaths and Mortality; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Burden of mental illness; World Health Organization Western Pacific Region Report; World Health Organization, Cardiovascular Disease Fact Sheet

Obesity, diabetes, and lifestyles that contribute to them


  • Worldwide, the rate of obesity has nearly doubled since 1980, with just over 200 million adult men and just under 300 million adult women who are obese.
  • Obesity rates have been steadily rising in children, too: In 2010, 43 million preschool children were overweight or obese, a 60 percent increase since 1990.
  • In 2014, an estimated 9% of adults around the world had diabetes, and in 2012, an estimated 1.5 million deaths were linked to the disease; more than 80 percent of these deaths occur in low- or middle-income countries.
  • By 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that diabetes will be the seventh-leading cause of death around the world.


  • Medical costs linked to obesity were estimated to be $147 billion in 2008.
  • The total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity.
  • In 2011, more than half (52 percent) of adults aged 18 years or older did not meet recommendations for aerobic exercise or physical activity.
  • In 2011, more than one-third (36 percent) of adolescents and 38 percent of adults said they ate fruit less than once a day, while 38 percent of adolescents and 23 percent of adults said they ate vegetables less than once a day.

SOURCES: WHO Fact Sheet on Diabetes; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Deaths and Mortality; International Diabetes Federation; Centre for Health Protection: Statistics on behavioral risk factors; Centre for Health Protection: Physical activity levels; Centre for Health Protection: fruit and vegetable consumption; International Diabetes Federation China Report; The Lancet Diabetes in China

Mental health conditions, including suicide and alcohol dependency


  • According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depression was the third most important cause of disease burden worldwide in 2004. Depression was in “eighth place in low-income countries, but in first place in middle- and high-income countries.”
  • Anxiety disorders, which include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and separation anxiety disorder, are the most common class of mental disorders present in the general population.


  • Drinking too much alcohol is responsible for 88,000 deaths each year, more than half of which are due to binge drinking.
  • The economic costs of drinking too much alcohol were estimated to be $223.5 billion.
    Suicide accounted for more than 41,000 deaths in 2013.

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Deaths and Mortality; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Burden of mental illness; Mind Map: Suicide in Hong Kong; South China Morning Post: More Hong Kong children commit suicide than die in accidents; Four in ten young Hongkongers have suicidal thoughts; Mind Map: Falling through the cracks; Brookings: Happiness and health in China; World Health Organization: Alcohol and alcohol related harm in China

Tobacco use


  • Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • There are more than a billion smokers worldwide, and more than 80% live in low- or middle-income countries.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, smoking causes over US$500 billion in economic damage each year.


  • More than 42 million adults—close to 1 of every 5—said they smoked cigarettes in 2012. Cigarette smoking accounts for more than 480,000 deaths each year.
  • For the years 2009-2012, economic cost due to smoking is estimated to be more than $289 billion a year.

SOURCES: Tobacco Use Insights: The economic impact of smoking and reducing smoking prevalence; WHO Tobacco Fact Sheet; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Deaths and Mortality; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Burden of mental illness; Centre for Health Protection: Cigarette smoking statistics; Lancet: Contrasting male and female trends in tobacco attributed mortality in China