The first annual World Health Organization’s “Global Status Report” finds that the leading killer of the world’s population are non-communicable, chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, cancers and diabetes. These types of diseases combine contribute to over 36 million deaths annually, many of which are in low- to middle-income countries.
"The rise of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) presents an enormous challenge," says WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
NCDs have similar risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, and poor diet. While all of these factors are preventable, they have become a mainstay among the world’s population, even with the decreased use of tobacco across the board. Getting people to change their lifestyle can be more difficult than mass immunization against diseases such as smallpox.
Approximately 30 percent of those who die from these diseases are under the age of 60, impacting economies in a major way. “These premature deaths are all the more tragic because they are largely preventable," according to Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO assistant director-general for NCDs.
WHO mainains that deaths attributed to NCDs can be prevented if existing policies that promote government-wide actions against them are more strongly enforced. They recommend stronger anti-tobacco controls, reducing harmful use of alcohol, and promotion of healthier diets and physical activities. In addition, WHO believes that people’s access to essential health care should also be improved, something which is lacking in many low- to middle-income countries.
In America, the leading cause of death is heart disease, followed by cancer, not unlike the rest of the world. Chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke and accidents round out the top 5 in the United States.