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Global life expectancy can be increased by almost five years and millions of premature deaths prevented if five risk factors affecting health are addressed, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
The report says five risk factors -- poor childhood nutrition, unsafe sex, alcohol, bad sanitation and hygiene, and high blood pressure -- are responsible for one quarter of deaths worldwide every year.
It says addressing those risks can increase global life expectancy by nearly five years and prevent premature deaths in the millions.
Stephen Morrison is director of Global Health Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He says the report shows that the developing world is carrying a double burden of infectious disease and chronic disorders. The chronic illnesses stem from lifestyle issues.
"It says that if you really care about health outcomes as a matter of strategy, you have to begin paying higher attention to how the developing world and emerging markets will come to terms with alcohol, tobacco, obesity, with inactivity," Morrison said.
Eight risk factors account for over 75 percent of cases of coronary heart disease, the leading killer worldwide, the report says.
Heart disease was once primarily associated with rich countries, but most of these deaths now occur in developing nations.
As poor countries struggle with chronic disorders, experts believe they can learn from developed countries that have experience dealing with these diseases.
"And so it has implications, I believe in our bilateral relationship: the kind of research capacities and policy approaches that we have developed should have some value," Morrison says, "and we should focus on attempting to form partnerships at the research level."
The Global Health Risks report describes 24 factors affecting health. They are a mixture of environmental, behavioral, and physiological factors, including air pollution and tobacco use.
WHO also warns that in developing countries, poor nutrition is a significant health risk but obesity and being overweight are even greater risks in richer countries because they cause more deaths than being underweight.