Chronic diseases and their risk factors highlighted in new WHO report

(April 29, 2011) This week , the World Health Organization released their first Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases, highlighting the global prevalence and impact of chronic conditions. In 2008 there were 57 million deaths worldwide, 36 million of these deaths were attributed to chronic disease. According to the WHO report, most NCDs are commonly associated with four particular (and preventable) behaviors: physical inactivity, tobacco use, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol.

Chronic disease is not isolated only to older populations – it is the cause of approximately 16 million deaths annually in people under the age of 70. It is never too earlier to address and correct the behaviors that lead to chronic disease.

Insufficient physical activity
Approximately 3.2 million deaths annually are attributable to insufficient physical activity. People who are insufficiently physically active have a 20–30% higher risk of mortality, but those who engage in 30 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week can significantly minimize their risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, stroke, hypertension and depression.

Tobacco use
Almost 6 million people die from tobacco use each year, both from direct tobacco use and second-hand smoke. By 2020, this number will increase to 7.5 million, accounting for 10% of all deaths. Smoking is estimated to cause about 71% of lung cancer, 42% of chronic respiratory disease and nearly 10% of cardiovascular disease.

Unhealthy diet
Adequate consumption of fruit and vegetables minimizes the risk for cardiovascular diseases, stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. Reducing salt consumption can regulate blood pressure and lower cardiovascular risk, and reducing consumption of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids can help manage risks linked to heart disease.

Harmful use of alcohol
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to approximately 2.3 million deaths each year, 3.8% of all deaths worldwide. More than half of these deaths are caused by NCDs including cancers, cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis.

For more information on the global prevalence and impact of non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, download the WHO’s Global Status Report on Non-Communicable Diseases.