“The leading global risks for mortality in the world are high blood pressure (responsible for 13% of deaths globally), tobacco use (9%), high blood glucose (6%), physical inactivity (6%), and overweight and obesity (5%). These risks are responsible for raising the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers. They affect countries across all income groups: high, middle and low.
“The leading global risks for burden of disease as measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) are underweight (6% of global DALYs) and unsafe sex (5%), followed by alcohol use (5%) and unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene (4%). Three of these risks particularly affect populations in low-income countries, especially in the regions of South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The fourth risk – alcohol use – shows a unique geographic and sex pattern, with its burden highest for men in Africa, in middle-income countries in the Americas and in some high-income countries.
“The burden of disease attributable to risk factors is measured in terms of lost years of healthy life using the metric of the disability-adjusted life year. The DALY combines years of life lost due to premature death with years of healthy life lost due to illness and disability.
“Five leading risk factors (childhood underweight, unsafe sex, alcohol use, unsafe water and sanitation, and high blood pressure) are responsible for one quarter of all deaths in the world, and one fifth of all DALYs. Reducing exposure to these risk factors would increase global life expectancy by nearly 5 years.
“Eight risk factors (alcohol use, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, high blood glucose, low fruit and vegetable intake, and physical inactivity) account for 61% of cardiovascular deaths. Combined, these same risk factors account for over three quarters of ischaemic heart disease: the leading cause of death worldwide. Although these major risk factors are usually associated with high-income countries, over 84% of the total global burden of disease they cause occurs in low- and middle-income countries. Reducing exposure to these eight risk factors would increase global life expectancy by almost 5 years.
“A total of 10.4 million children died in 2004, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. An estimated 39% of these deaths (4.1 million) were caused by micronutrient deficiencies, underweight, suboptimal breastfeeding and preventable environmental risks. Most of these preventable deaths occurred in the WHO African Region (39%) and the South-East Asia Region (43%). Nine environmental and behavioural risks, together with seven infectious causes, are responsible for 45% of cancer deaths worldwide. For specific cancers, the proportion is higher: for example, tobacco smoking alone causes 71% of lung cancer deaths worldwide. Tobacco accounted for 18% of deaths in high-income countries.
“Health risks are in transition: populations are ageing owing to successes against infectious diseases; at the same time, patterns of physical activity and food, alcohol and tobacco consumption are changing. Low- and middle-income countries now face a double burden of increasing chronic, noncommunicable conditions, as well as the communicable diseases that traditionally affect the poor. Understanding the role of these risk factors is important for developing clear and effective strategies for improving global health.” — World Health Organization
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