The World Health Organization warned Thursday that 38 million people die each year from chronic diseases, which are preventable and treatable.
A new report from the WHO warns that nearly half of those who die from non-communicable diseases - about 16 million people - do so prematurely, before the age of 70. The majority of people who die from these illnesses reside in developing countries.
WHO says deaths from non-communicable illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, have increased worldwide since 2000, and grown the most in southeast Asia and the western Pacific. But by 2020, the largest increases in these deaths will occur in Africa. Progress in reversing the trends has been insufficient and uneven.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told a U.N. meeting Thursday that the childhood obesity epidemic is an early warning sign of bigger problems ahead.
“An abundance of overweight children readily progresses to an abundance of chronically ill adults and a financial burden on the health systems that can be unbearable even in the richest countries in the world,” she said.
Chan said a decline in childhood obesity would be an indication that some of the major risk factors for these diseases are being attacked at their core.
The report, which breaks down the data on a country-by-country basis, notes that governments are aware of the problem of chronic illnesses and at least half of them have a plan and funding to address them. More countries also are monitoring some of the main risk factors that bring on these illnesses, such as alcohol consumption, tobacco use, an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise.
More than half the world’s governments have signed up to a WHO global action plan to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by a quarter by 2025.
Chan said prevention, early diagnosis and treatment are important tools in reaching this goal. “Early diagnosis, early treatment can be secondary prevention to prevent heart attacks, to prevent kidney failure, blindness from diabetes, and to prevent amputation.”
She said WHO is working to make sure that people not only have a long life expectancy, but a healthy one.