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'Lifestyle' Diseases Kill 16 Million Prematurely: WHO

Global cost could reach $70 trillion over next decade

Diseases linked to lifestyle choices, including diabetes and some cancers, kill 16 million people prematurely each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, urging action to stop the “slow-moving public health disaster.”

Unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and consuming too much fat, salt, and sugar, have sparked an epidemic of diseases that together constitute the leading cause of death globally, WHO said.

This “lifestyle disease” epidemic “causes a much greater public health threat than any other epidemic known to man,” said Dr. Shanthi Mendis, lead author of WHO’s Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management report.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, lung disease, and a range of cancers, killed 38 million people worldwide in 2012 — 16 million of them under the age of 70.

“Not thousands are dying, but millions are dying every year in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, not in their 80s and 90s,” Mendis said.

Most (82%) of the world’s 16 million premature NCD deaths each year occur in poor and middle-income countries, and most of them could be averted with small investments, the report found.

An estimated 6 million people die prematurely each year because of tobacco use; 3.3 million deaths are linked to alcohol abuse; 3.2 million deaths are linked to a lack of physical activity; and 1.7 million deaths are due to eating too much salt, according to WHO findings.

Forty-two million children under 5 years of age are considered to be obese, and an estimated 84% of adolescents do not get enough exercise, Mendis said, describing the situations as “extremely frightening.”

Simple steps such as banning the advertising of tobacco and alcohol products and taxing foods and drinks that contain high levels of salt and caffeine have proven successful in a range of countries, WHO said. In Turkey, for instance, an advertising ban on tobacco products combined with significant price hikes and health warnings has reduced smoking rates by 13.4% since 2008.

If nothing is done to improve the situation, premature NCD deaths could cost the global economies $7.0 trillion over the next decade, WHO warns.

Source: Medical Xpress; January 19, 2015.

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