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WHO Blames Lifestyle for Increases in Some Diseases - 2002-09-18

The World Health Organization says illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which are linked to unhealthy lifestyles, are on the increase worldwide. The WHO is blaming eating habits and a lack of exercise.

The World Health Organization says it is common knowledge that smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can cause illness and premature death. But it says people are less aware of the health problems linked to bad diet and physical inactivity. The organization also says these health problems are not limited to people in the developed world.

Derek Yach heads WHO's non-communicable diseases and mental health division. He says many people in the developing world also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and other illnesses.

"What we have seen is that we, today, have 2.8 million deaths from cardiovascular disease in China, 2.6 million cardiovascular deaths in India out of a world total of 16 million deaths [from cardiovascular disease]," said Dr. Yach. And that diabetes rates - as an example type 2 diabetes - are rising fairly rapidly in our Western Pacific Islands and in many developing country cities, particularly those in Asia."

Dr. Yach says WHO will work closely with governments, non-governmental consumer groups, private commercial enterprises and its United Nations partners to improve public health by encouraging healthy eating and physical activity.

He says the health agency also plans to enlist the help of multinational food companies.

"The food companies are going to be part of the critical solution long term, said Dr. Yach. "They are all too aware of the rising debate across the world about improving diet. And they want to stay in the food business. We do not see that there is going to be a necessary conflict between being in the food business and having healthy foods or foods that are not associated with increased risks. Our early discussions with many of these companies suggest that they recognize this."

The World Health Organization says a few common sense measures can mean the difference between an early death and a healthy life. It recommends that people eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, engage in moderate exercise every day and cut down on the amount of fatty, salty and sugary foods in their diet.