A new report says millions of premature deaths can be prevented by tackling global health risks. The World Health Organization reports global life expectancy could be increased by nearly five years by addressing five factors affecting health.
The report says five leading global health risks are responsible for one quarter of the deaths every year. They include childhood underweight, unsafe sex, alcohol use, lack of safe water, hygiene and sanitation, and high blood pressure.
The study describes 24 factors affecting health. These are a mixture of environmental, behavioral and physiological factors, such as air pollution, tobacco use and poor nutrition.
A Technical Officer at the World Health Organization, Gretchen Stevens tells VOA the report deals with both chronic and infectious diseases, as well as the risks posed by lifestyle.
"The first one they mentioned was childhood underweight and that basically happens when children do not get enough to eat or nutritious enough food," said Stevens. "And, that increases their likelihood of getting an infectious disease and dying from it. Some of the other ones I mentioned, for example, high blood pressure really affects chronic diseases such as heart disease."
Stevens says high blood pressure is actually the leading killer of all the risk factors considered, causing 7.5 million deaths each year. She notes blood-pressure levels, surprisingly, are quite high in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most seriously affected in the world.
She says mortality rates in Africa are very high because of the unsafe sex risk factor, which causes HIV/AIDS, as well as childhood underweight and unsafe water and sanitation risk factors.
"And, another region that is really heavily affected are the developing countries in the European region," added Stevens. "Those are basically the former countries of the USSR. And, a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease really have a very large impact on health in those countries. For example, alcohol-use, high blood pressure and high cholesterol."
The report says many deaths and diseases are caused by more than one risk factor and may be prevented by reducing any one of them.
For example, it says eight risk factors alone account for more than 75 percent of cases of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide. These include alcohol consumption, tobacco use, high blood pressure and physical inactivity.
It says eliminating some or all of the risk factors could add years to a person's life.