Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual report on health statistics, World health statistics 2012, which showed that 1 in 3 adults suffers from hypertension, a condition that causes about half of all deaths from stroke and heart problems worldwide. The report also said that 1 in 10 has diabetes, and obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008 in all parts of the world. Non-communicable diseases are currently responsible for two thirds of all deaths in the world, so WHO is working on a framework to monitor, prevent and control these diseases.
For the very first time the annual report included information from 194 countries on the percentage of men and women with raised blood pressure and blood glucose levels. It reveals, among other things, that improved diagnosis and treatment have contributed significantly to a reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease in high-income countries. Nevertheless, the organization is concerned about the countries where preventive measures have not been implemented, and where most people are unaware that these conditions carry a high risk of disability or death from cardiovascular disease.
“This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low- and middle-income countries,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “In some African countries, as much as half the adult population has high blood pressure,” Chan explained, highlighting that the WHO wants to draw attention to the growing impact of non-communicable diseases.
The global prevalence of raised blood glucose levels is 10%, but in some Pacific Island countries up to one third of the population suffers from this condition. The WHO points out that if left untreated, diabetes can cause cardiovascular disease, blindness and kidney failure, and since this disease can be prevented, there is due cause to intervene both at national and global levels.
The third major concern is the excess weight, and Ties Boerma, Director of the Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems at WHO explains that half a billion people (12% of the world’s population) currently are obese. The highest incidence of obesity was recorded in the Americas (26% of adults) and the lowest in South-East Asia (3% of adults). There is a higher proportion of obesity in women than men, and they are thus at greater risk of develop diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
It is important to pursue preventive measures both at the national and individual levels. Lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on a person’s risk score. For example, it is both simple and cheap to reduce the risk of disability or death from cardiovascular disease by eating less salt. Research also indicates that people who jog live longer, so another simple measure is getting out your trainers and heading outdoors.
The 2010 guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) show that population interventions can have a significant impact, give results quickly, and may be a cost-effective way to prevent disease, without necessarily being very complicated. The greatest remaining challenge is getting politicians on board. Nevertheless, with statistics such as these from the WHO, it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the status quo.