The World Health Organization has published their leading causes of death from killer diseases and conditions worldwide, while breaking down results of surveys from the 193 member countries by income level. Not surprising, lower income countries face enormous threats from communicable diseases. But somewhat surprisingly, most of the top diseases on every list are preventable.
The top causes of death worldwide are attributable to noncommunicable diseases such as various types of heart disease, cancers, lung diseases and diabetes. More than 36 million deaths were caused by these conditions in 2008, according to the WHO report. Specifically, 48% of these deaths were attributable to heart disease, 21% to some form of cancer, 12% caused by lung disease and about 3% being the result of diabetes.
As we’re all aware, many of these conditions can be mitigated or eliminated altogether, by reduction of certain health risks and risky behaviors such as smoking, lack of exercise and poor eating habits. From a worldwide perspective, infectious and communicable diseases like those associated with diarrheal diseases and HIV/AIDS, follow the above leading causes of death. Of course, many of these deaths can also be prevented by clean drinking water, better nutrition and hygiene, as well as safe-sex strategies.
As a reaction to the statistics revealed by the WHO report, the United Nation’s General Assembly will convene this month to develop an international plan to fight noncommunicable diseases facing the world’s population. No one expects the UN to save the world, as its members may suggest. But as is the case with communicating information, the task of adequately educating populations with regard to healthy lifestyle choices, is always something we can and should make a concerted effort to do.
The WHO has in the past, attempted to confront poor lifestyle choices by addressing the hazards of smoking. In 2008, the WHO issued recommendations to member countries which included smoking cessation programs, higher taxes on tobacco products, and publishing warnings on tobacco products and restrictions on tobacco advertising. These policy suggestions mimic those already in place in the U.S. and are beneficial in other areas of the world.
As for the higher income countries, 87% of all deaths are caused by noncommunicable diseases. Heart disease accounts for 35% of all deaths, with cancers at 23%, lung disease coming in at 7% and followed by diabetes at 3%. In the WHO report, it’s noted that nearly 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. We’re all going to go by some means. There’s no way around it. What we can do is increase our longevity by living healthier and happier lives. The plan is as simple as eating right, exercising, drinking more water and taking vitamins and supplements. Just follow the path and live longer.