Chronic diseases and health promotion

Overview - Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment

The risk factors are widespread

388 000 000 people will die in the next 10 years of chronic disease

Common, modifiable risk factors underlie the major chronic diseases. These risk factors explain the vast majority of chronic disease deaths at all ages, in men and women, and in all parts of the world. They include:

  • unhealthy diet;
  • physical inactivity;
  • tobacco use.

Each year at least:

  • 4.9 million people die as a result of tobacco use;
  • 2.6 million people die as a result of being overweight or obese;
  • 4.4 million people die as a result of raised total cholesterol levels;
  • 7.1 million people die as a result of raised blood pressure.
The threat is growing

Deaths from infectious diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies combined are projected to decline by 3% over the next 10 years. In the same period, deaths due to chronic diseases are projected to increase by 17%. This means that of the projected 64 million people who will die in 2015,
41 million will die of a chronic disease – unless urgent action is taken.

The global response is inadequate

Despite global successes, such as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world, chronic diseases have generally been neglected in international health and development work. Furthermore, chronic diseases – the major cause of adult illness and death in all regions of the world – have not been included within the global Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets; although as a recent WHO publication on health and the MDGs has recognized, there is scope for doing so within Goal 6 (Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases). Health more broadly, including chronic disease prevention, contributes to poverty reduction and hence Goal (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Health and the Millennium Development Goals, Geneva, WHO, 2005).

In response to their needs, several countries have already adapted their MDG targets and indicators to include chronic diseases and/or their risk factors; a selection of these countries is featured in Part Two. This report will demonstrate that chronic diseases hinder economic growth and reduce the development potential of countries, and this is especially true for countries experiencing rapid economic growth, such as China and India. However, it is important that prevention is addressed within the context of international health and development work even in least developed countries such as the United Republic of Tanzania, which are already undergoing an upsurge in chronic disease risks and deaths.