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Millions Worldwide Die of Preventable Causes, says WHO - 2003-05-14

The World Health Organization says millions of people around the world die each year from largely preventable causes such as heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer. The organization has just launched a report, which presents data from 170 countries on risk factors people can control to try to avoid those diseases.

The World Health Organization estimates 17 million people die every year from heart disease and stroke. Or put another way, one of every three deaths in the world can be attributed to those two causes. The health agency says, 80 percent of those deaths are in low and middle income countries.

The Executive Director of the World Heart Federation, Janet Voute, says there is an urgent need for high quality, specific data on risk factors such as tobacco smoking and obesity.

"The data on these risk factors can predict disease patterns. And, with this data in hand, governments, with the help of the World Health Organization and non-governmental organizations like the World Heart Federation, can help prevent diseases such as heart disease and stroke," she said. "We believe that what gets measured, gets done. So, we need this data."

The report presents data on eight important risk factors in 170 countries. They include tobacco use, lack of exercise, obesity and high alcohol consumption.

The Director of Surveillance at the World Health Organization, Ruth Bonita, says many people assume that risk factors related to heart disease and stroke are only found in wealthy countries.

"That is absolutely not the case," she said. "From our best estimates, from the World Health Report last year, we know quite clearly that the risk factors like tobacco, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, they are very prevalent and they are growing and they are equally spread in even high mortality developing countries, people who are still battling with infectious diseases. "

The Chief Medical Officer at the University Hospital in Geneva, Alfredo Morabia, says chronic diseases take many years to develop. "If you are interested in prevention, you need to know what are the risk factors today," said Alfredo Morabia. "How many people are obese today. How many smoke. How many are sedentary. If you have this information, than you can avoid the future epidemics in coronary heart disease and stroke, etc."

The health officials say the World Health Organization report is an important first step in the struggle to control the rising tide of preventable disease. They say it provides an impetus for governments and international organizations to move now to fight disease, disability, and death that can be prevented.