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Lifestyle Factors at Root of Non-Communicable Disease Crisis

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan makes a point during her address to the 64th World Health Assembly at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, May 16, 2011

The World Health Organization says lifestyle factors are at the root of the non-communicable disease crisis, which is responsible for millions of premature deaths every year. WHO is calling for global action to combat this epidemic.

The World Health Organization breaks a common misperception. It says non-communicable diseases or NCDs do not mainly afflict affluent people. On the contrary, it says 80 percent of all NCDs occur in low and middle-income countries.

WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, says millions of people are dying prematurely every year from the world’s biggest killers - cancers, heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

“If you look at, 63 percent of the total number of deaths worldwide, which is about 36 million is due to NCD [non-communicable diseases]," she said. "And, of that 36 million, nine million of them were people below the age of 60. Nowadays, you do not need to die before the age of 60. According to our culture, your life begins at 60.”

WHO says non-communicable diseases are preventable. It reports up to 80 percent of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and more than one-third of cancers could be prevented by eliminating the major risk factors. These include tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.

Minister of Health of Palau, Stevenson Kuartei, says non-communicable diseases are having a devastating affect upon his region. He notes the Western Pacific region is the most diverse in the world. It encompasses 37 countries, which stretch from the world’s biggest country, China across the Pacific to some of the world’s smallest island states.

“Today, in our region, home of nearly 1.8 billion people, NCD are responsible for four out of every five deaths," he said. "In some of our small island states, among the adults, the prevalence of overweight-obesity is 80 percent.

"And, more than half of the population report daily use of tobacco," continued Kuartei. "These NCD’s are affecting people earlier in life, robbing many of their most productive years and creating complex health needs that are expensive to treat.”

WHO says life-style factors are at the root of the non-communicable disease crisis. It says life-style changes also can be the solution to stemming the epidemic.

If nothing is done, it warns NCD deaths will increase by 17 percent over the next 10 years. It says the greatest increase will be seen in the African and the eastern Mediterranean regions. It adds the highest absolute number of deaths will occur in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia region.