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Noncommunicable diseases and mental health

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Growing risk factors

Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. It is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide, or about 5 million deaths, each year. If current smoking patterns continue, it will cause some 10 million deaths each year by 2020.

Similarly, obesity rates are climbing at an alarming pace, not just in developed countries but at an even faster rate in developing countries. In many developing countries, in fact, obesity now co-exists with under-nutrition, causing what is known as 'transition' risk factors. In fact, there are now nearly as many obese people in developing countries as in developed and more overweight people. By 2010, it's expected the least developed regions will exceed the developed in both categories. In all, WHO estimates there are more than 300 million obese people worldwide, and 1.4 billion people who are overweight. Without urgent action to prevent it, those numbers are projected to rise to nearly half a billion obese people and nearly 2 billion overweight by 2010.

Global risk factors

The World Health Report (2002) lists the 25 leading global risks to health. Of them, 14 result in diseases, conditions or disorders within the responsibility of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health cluster (NMH).

Additionally, the risks associated with suicide, depression, certain mental disorders, traffic injuries and other external causes of injury and violence are alarmingly high and are being addressed by NMH.

Childhood/maternal undernutrition:

  • Underweight*
  • Iron deficiency*
  • Vitamin A deficiency*
  • Zinc deficiency*

Diet and physical activity-related:

  • Blood pressure*
  • Cholesterol*
  • Overweight*
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake*

Sexual and reproductive health risks:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Lack of contraception

Addictive substances:

  • Tobacco*
  • Alcohol*
  • Illicit drugs*

Environmental risks:

  • Unsafe water, sanitation
  • Urban air pollution, indoor smoke
  • Lead exposure
  • Climate change

Occupational risks:

  • Risk factors for injury*
  • Carcinogens*
  • Airborne particulates
  • Ergonomic stressors
  • Noise

Other selected risks to health:

  • Unsafe healthcare injections
  • Childhood sexual abuse*

Note: The risk factors marked with an asterisk (*) are the 14 leading global risks to health, according to the World Health Report 2002, that result in diseases, conditions or disorders within the responsibility of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health cluster (NMH).

Related links

World Health Report 2002 - Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life
Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)
Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
Road traffic injuries
Management of substance abuse

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