THURSDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- Wars around the world have killed three times more people over the past half-century than previously estimated, a new study suggests.

The finding supports the notion of armed conflict as a "public health problem" whose instability leads not only to violent deaths, but to indirect deaths from infectious disease and other causes, experts add.

"War kills more people than we had previously thought," said lead researcher Ziad Obermeyer, a research scientist at Brigham & Women's Hospital, in Boston. "And that has to be taken into account when we're looking historically, and it's important for people and policy makers to know when they're looking at the consequences of the war. It's important that there's an awareness of how many people actually die."

In the study, Obermeyer's group compared data on war deaths from eyewitnesses and the media from 13 countries over the past 50 years with peacetime data in the United Nations World Health Surveys, which was collected after the end of the wars.

This method avoids problems collecting data during active combat, and also reduces counting deaths twice or exaggerating the number, Obermeyer said.

The researchers estimate that 5.4 million people died from 1955 to 2002 as a result of wars in 13 countries. These deaths range from 7,000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 3.8 million in Vietnam.  [5.4 million in 47 years is an average of just less than 115,000 per year.  But then, this is just the figures for 13 countries.]

According to Obermeyer, the estimates are three times higher than those of previous reports. Data from this new study also suggests that 378,000 people worldwide died a violent death in war each year between 1985 and 1994, compared with 137,000 estimated at the time.  [Perhaps, my estimate of 12,000 Americans per year was a bit low or perhaps it's just that the U.S. has a lower casualty rate than 3rd world countries - see below.]

The biggest differences were seen in Bangladesh, where 269,000 people died during that country's struggle for independence, compared with previous estimates of 58,000, the report shows. In Zimbabwe, the researchers estimate that 130,000 people have died in times of conflict, compared with earlier estimates of 28,000.

The findings are published in the June 20 online edition of the British Medical Journal.